Ariz. schools forced to implement new standards for English, math - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Education

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Ariz. schools forced to implement new standards for English, math

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Posted: Monday, September 10, 2012 8:00 am

Arizona schools are being forced to implement new standards for English and math this year while still waiting for financial help from the state officials who are promoting them.

Timothy Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said Wednesday that school districts are being forced to trim expenses in some areas to meet the new mandates of the Common Core standards. He said while some districts can move around some of their teacher training money, others do not have staff development dollars.

“They have to cut and paste out of other parts of the budget in order to make this work,’’ he said.

But training dollars are only a piece of the picture.

Ildi Laczko-Kerr, director of the Arizona Charter School Association, said schools are going to need new textbooks that conform to the new standards.

And then there’s the fact that the testing will no longer be with pencil and paper but instead online. Even Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said that presents two problems that will take money to resolve.

First, there isn’t sufficient online “broadband’’ capacity to deal with thousands of children taking tests at the same time. And he said some schools just don’t have the necessary computers.

“About half of our districts are not equipped to do that today,’’ Ogle said.

Matthew Benson, press aide to Gov. Jan Brewer, said the state has a $25 million federal “Race to the Top’’ grant that can be used for things like reimbursing schools for the costs of sending teachers to training sessions. So far, though, none of that money has been given out.

As to the bigger picture of additional costs, Brewer herself said voters should rely on her to do the right thing.

“My record will stand,’’ the governor said following a press conference Wednesday to promote the new standards.

“I have fought hard and long for education,’’ Brewer said. “And I will continue to do so.’’

But Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, said that has not translated to the dollars that schools need. Even in cases where Brewer has asked for more, the Republican-controlled Legislature cut her request.

Morrill said that in just the past five years, the Legislature has withheld a total of $670 million in what is supposed to be automatic funding for “soft capital.’’ That includes funding for things like computers and books.

And he pointed out that lawmakers have not even funded the inflation adjustment for the past two years.

While Brewer said she’s willing to fight for more money, state School Superintendent John Huppenthal refused to make a similar commitment. In fact, he said the fact that 14,000 teachers already have been trained — at local school district expense — shows that the state need not provide more cash.

“So we’re already doing a lot within the current resource constraints,’’ he said. “That’s the challenge that we have.’’

And Huppenthal said living with less is just a fact of life.

“I grew up in a household where the food ran out on Sunday and shopping day was Wednesday,’’ he said. “To me, operating in a scarce resource environment is second nature.’’

The idea behind the Common Core Standards is to align what Arizona requires students to learn in English and math with what is being taught across the country.

At the very least, that will mean that the achievement levels of Arizona students can be directly compared with other states. Now, the main test used here is AIMS — Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards — which is based solely on goals prepared for students here.

There is an opportunity for more cash.

Voters will get a chance to decide in November whether to approve Proposition 204, making a permanent one-cent increase in the state sales tax. If approved, that would kick in on June 1, the day after the temporary one-cent levy approved by voters in 2010 expires.

More than half the approximately $1 billion a year the levy would raise initially would go to K-12 education, with other dollars for universities, road construction and health care for the children of working poor. And proponents say some of that could be used to help schools with the costs of the new standards.

Brewer, however, is opposed to the measure.

“I think there’s a better way of doing it,’’ the governor said. But Brewer had no specifics when pressed for an alternative.

“The schools and the academic community, they’re all working collectively with my office and with my school staff,’’ she responded. “And we will continue to do that to make sure we get the highest standards out there that they will be taken care of and Arizona will rise in the ranks.’’

Huppenthal said he is still studying the initiative before taking a position.

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