Next steps in common core will cost state tens of millions’ of dollars

The $1.25 billion set aside in next year's budget to help schools transition to new testing and instruction based on common national curriculum standards might seem like plenty of money to get the job done. But new analysis suggests the Legislature will be responsible for tens of millions more before the entire program has been implemented.

California, like 45 other states, adopted common core standards in English language arts and math three years ago - but is only now setting into motion the costly switch.

Legislation that would establish the 2014-15 school year as the deadline for student testing in the new curriculum won passage Wednesday out of a key Senate review committee.

According to analysis of that bill - AB 484 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord - the actual costs of administering the new, computer-based assessments are not yet finalized - but an initial estimate put the annual cost at about $97.1 million or $31.1 million more than is allocated for the current testing system.

Legislative staff has also projected another $500,000 to $1 million in costs related to new administrative services the California Department of Education will likely have to shoulder as part of the new testing. And there is another $500,000 to $1 million to hire an outside evaluation of how the new system is working.

But the analysis also identified cost pressure, at least in the tens of millions" of dollars to the CDE for developing a host of other assessment such as history and social sciences, high school science, primary language as well as testing for students with exceptional needs and English learners.

The report comes as lawmakers appear to be wrapping up their review of the Bonilla bill in advance of sending it to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

As offered, AB 484 would suspend the state's current student performance assessment, the Standardized Testing and Reporting program - or STAR - as of July, 2013.

Beginning in 2014-15, schools would be required to begin using new computer-based assessment being developed by a group of states - the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, of which California is one of the leaders. Pilot testing of the assessment has already begun both here and in other member states.

The bill has already won easy passage out of the state Assembly and appears to have all the support it needs to get out of the Senate too - even though a two-thirds vote is required.

The governor has not indicated if he objects to the bill or parts of it but based on the actions of Brown's appointees' to the California State Board of Education, it would appear he will sign it once it reaches his desk even though the entire cost of the program is still somewhat uncertain.

In a statement Wednesday, state schools chief Tom Torlakson cheered the action of the Senate Education committee.

"With teachers and schools across the state working hard to bring the new Common Core State Standards to life in our classrooms, we need assessments that reflect the deeper learning students are striving forâand the real-world skills they need to contribute to the future of our state," Torlakson said.