Thursday, February 22, 2018
Education

PolitiFact Florida: Education commissioner half right on Common Core cost

One of the many complaints about Florida's move toward new school standards has centered on how much it will cost. But at a recent public hearing on the standards, Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said cost shouldn't be a major factor. "Our analysis is there is not an additional cost with implementation of the Common Core standards."

Her assertion brought out the doubters, even among supporters of the K-12 English and math standards.

PolitiFact Florida decided to take a closer look. But the issue isn't as clear cut as you might imagine.

Most policy analysts agree that Common Core implementation carries expenses. The National Conference of State Legislatures offers a sample list of what to expect: one-time transition costs such as new instructional materials, tests, technology and teacher training, and ongoing maintenance and updates.

"When taking into account all of the things that need to be updated and the fact that it's difficult for state education agencies to change their practice … I think it will be extremely challenging to keep costs flat," said Anne Hyslop, an education analyst for the New America Foundation.

Indeed, the Florida Department of Education created a spreadsheet in February detailing more than $100 million in Common Core projects the state had embarked upon. The items included $24 million for the creation of student tutorial lessons, $4.7 million to generate math assessments and lesson study toolkits, and $25.5 million for a database of test questions for teachers.

Funding for the vast majority of these projects came from a federal Race to the Top grant that Florida won, in part, for agreeing to adopt the Common Core.

During the spring 2013 legislative session, Florida lawmakers noted that testing for the new standards would require computers. They adopted a law barring the state from using Common Core-affiliated tests until all schools had the needed technology in place. The bill analysis noted that the State Board of Education requested $442 million for the improvements, a number later revised downward to $100 million.

Still, Stewart isn't completely wrong.

"It costs something," said Patrick Murphy, research director for the Public Policy Institute of California who co-wrote a national report on costs associated with Common Core. "The question is, does it cost extra money than we were going to spend?"

State officials say that much of the implementation, such as training and textbook purchases, would have been funded in some form even if the state weren't using the standards. "The purchase of materials for the new standards was embedded in our regular instructional materials purchase cycle so did not result in additional purchases or increased costs unless school districts chose to do so," said DOE spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie in an email.

As another example, the state's move to improve school technology could be attributed to a 2011 legislative mandate to have materials fully digital by 2015, or an even earlier press to transition all state testing to computers. "This process began before Florida's standards were adopted and will continue regardless of Florida's new standards," Cowie said.

So some of the money spent on Common Core is money the state would have spent anyway. But experts said it's unlikely that implementing the new standards will cost the state no additional money. Another wrinkle: The state received a federal grant to help pay for Common Core implementation.

Overall, we rate her statement Half True.

This report has been edited for print. Read the full fact-check and complete sources at politifact.com/florida.

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