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California Districts File Claim for Additional Funds to Cover State Testing

Four California school districts and one county office of education, with the support of the California School Boards Association, have filed a claim with state government to secure additional state funding to reimburse them for the cost of implementing standardized assessments in the state.

The CSBA's Education Legal Alliance is supporting the effort by the Santa Ana Unified, Plumas Unified, Porterville Unified, and Vallejo Unified districts, along with the Plumas County Office of Education, to get at least an additional $1 billion to help districts statewide put in place the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). This testing regimen includes the Smarter Balanced tests in English/language arts and math that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards. (In case you're curious, the four districts aren't particularly close to each other, geographically speaking.)

The districts and the county education office are seeking the additional funds through what's called a "mandate test claim" in California. As described by the California Controller's office (see page 14) these are claims from local K-12 agencies "that a specific statute or executive order imposes a new program or higher level of service in an existing program on a local agency or school district. In addition, test claims must allege that the new program or higher level of service imposes costs mandated by the state on a local agency or school district."

These claims are filed with the state Commission on State Mandates. If this commission approves this test claim, it then determines the appropriate statewide amount owed by California government. Then the state legislature, the governor, and the state finance department decide when and how these additional funds are disbursed.

"In Porterville, we were forced to hire three new technology specialists in order to properly equip and train our staff to administer the SBA," John Snavely, Superintendent of Porterville USD, said in a CSBA statement released on Jan. 28 announcing the claim.  "By not providing us with the necessary resources to implement the SBA, we are forced to forgo funding for other important programs."

As I wrote about last year, in the last two state budgets, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has approved funds totaling over $1.6 billion intended to help districts to implement the common core. Those funds could be used at districts' discretion for everything from professional development to new technology resources. Some of that spending could in theory also help districts prepare for the new assessments. 

But Josh Daniels, an attorney for CSBA, told me that while his group appreciates the funding increases California lawmakers have approved, including the additional aid in the Local Control Funding Formula lawmakers adopted in 2013, those don't cover the state constitution's requirement that the state can't impose unfunded mandates on districts for new programs or additional services.

"If it institutes a mandate, like CAASSP, it must specifically allocate funds to fulfill that mandate. That's what the state constitution requires," Daniels told me.

He added that he expects the commission to take about a year before it issues a decision on the local agencies' claim.

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