Over the past two years, California’s approximately 1,000 school districts have received nearly $3.6 billion in tax revenues. Lawmakers have stated that these one-time funds were meant for districts to highlight spending on implementing academic standards, specifically Common Core.
However, districts were also instructed to use the funds as reimbursement for programs and services the state required them to implement. California’s State Constitution requires the state to reimburse school districts for implementing any additional programs or services that the state imposes on them, such as regular student health screenings. Since most of California’s districts had already paid for the past mandated expenses, they had free range to use the money as needed.
This somewhat confusing message from legislators on allocating the funds has prompted several Common Core tutors and advocates to argue that the money should have been more specifically delegated. Moreover, many have asserted that districts should be held more responsible for reporting precisely how the funds are being incorporated into their budgets, especially alignment programs— such as common core tutoring implementation with local nonprofits. Jennifer Peck, the Executive Director of the nonprofit Partnership for Children and Youth said, “The state has no way to know, except anecdotally, how much of the money districts are spending on the Common Core”.
In the 2013-14 school year, California’s districts were required to spend $1.25 billion in state funds for expenses exclusively linked to Common Core implementation, including curriculum materials, technology, and teacher training. The districts were also required to provide detailed reports on these expenditures. However, over the past two years districts have been given much more discretion in how to allocate the funds, without the limits of detailed reporting requirements.
California School Boards Association spokesman Troy Flint said districts need this sort of continued flexibility with spending of the tax revenue funds. He states, “Much of this money will pay for Common Core implementation. But based on their particular situations, districts that have other pressing needs should have the discretion to address those as well.”
Indeed, San Jose Unified School District had already spent nearly $6.5 million in the 2013-14 restricted Common Core funding they received, as well as ongoing state funding. The school district’s Chief Business Officer, Stephen McMahon, said that since the district had already spent several million in Common Core implementation and those programs did not have any pressing needs; it spent the greater part of the most recent tax revenue funds on one-time staff bonuses to satisfy his district’s goal of retaining employees.
Compared to many other states, implementation of the Common Core standards in California has been relatively smooth, but significant challenges still remain. Many advocacy groups are asking the California State Legislature to restrict at least a portion of the $1.3 billion that Gov. Brown is proposing in funds for the coming school year so attention can be refocused on the Common Core standards. They argue that this way the state can be better prepared to meet its goals of preparing students for college and 21st-century careers while maintaining a clear grasp on the budget.
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