This blog is dedicated to the children of Missouri that are being serviced by the Special Education system. They are not receiving the services that they need because they will never make the state or their districts look good.
As public school districts across the state rush to align their curricula with the new Common Core State Standards they must have in place by 2014-15, state legislators are fighting to put on the brakes.
Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-O’Fallon, is the sponsor of House Bill 616, which would prohibit the Missouri State Board of Education from adopting the new standards and nullify all actions up to this point to implement them. Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, is sponsoring an identical piece of legislation, Senate Bill 210, in the Missouri Senate.
Bahr said he has three objections to the new standards: the process by which the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) adopted them, the cost and the logistics of getting the state’s 500-plus school districts ready to administer the standards’ requisite online assessments.
“What people don’t realize is it’s not the traditional No. 2 pencil and fill-in-the-bubble type of test,” said Bahr. “This is online testing.”
The Missouri Constitution gives DESE the right to establish standards, and Bahr does not dispute this, but he said DESE adopted the standards before securing the funds to implement them.
“The problem is every school in Missouri has to have the bandwidth, the Internet capability, for entire classes to be online at the same time. And that is, for a lot of areas, a massive capital improvement that we do not have the funds for,” he said.
Bahr said the House of Representatives has the “power of the purse,” and DESE usurped this power.
“DESE cannot create a bill and then hand it to the General Assembly and say, ‘Pay it.’ That is unconstitutional,” said Bahr. “So their adoption of standards is permissible. Their adoption of online assessments, which will be very expensive to implement, is unconstitutional unless we, the General Assembly, authorize it.”
Bahr said he has no idea how much implementing the new standards will cost, but he said DESE applied for $389 million in federal Race to the Top funds in 2009 – and he uses this as a barometer to gauge how much the new standards might cost.
“I see that and say,’ OK, well even if they’re only half right, we’re looking at nearly $200 million,’” said Bahr.
DESE spokeswoman, Sarah Potter, disputed those numbers and said the cost of implementing the new standards “has very little to do with Race to the Top” funds.
“Everything that we’ve done so far with Common Core has been done with our existing budget,” said Potter. “And what the districts have done is just to take whatever money they were spending on their professional development before and spend it on retraining teachers to teach the Common Core State Standards.”
Potter said that more than 200 districts are “pro Common Core” and well on their way to aligning their curricula to the new standards and training their teachers to teach them.
“For them to stop at this point would be such a waste of money and a waste of time,” Potter said.
She added that putting the brakes on the new standards would be a step backwards for public education.
“And that’s the last thing that our education system needs is to move backward and to waste time and money in implementing some really wonderful standards – some things that are really making an amazing difference in this state for education,” said Potter.
As for the cost of implementing the new standards, Potter said DESE is waiting for the results of a survey being conducted by Smarter Balanced, the state-led consortium designing the online assessments, to determine how ready the state’s schools are to administer the new online tests. She said she expects to have the results of that survey in the next month or two.
“Once we know exactly what we need, we will develop a plan and we will seek an appropriation, if necessary, to equip every school appropriately,” said Potter. “But we just don’t know what the extent of the need is at this point.”
“Are the standards better? Will the students be better in the long run? Maybe. But in the short run, we can’t afford it,” he said.
House Bill 616 passed out of the Committee on Downsizing State Government on March 14. Next, it will go to the Rules Committee before being debated on the House floor. Currently it is not on the calendar.