Separate Indiana education standards may be costly

(File Photo)
(File Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana schools are bracing to spend as much as $125 million to train teachers on proposed new state education standards in the wake of the state’s rejection of the national benchmarks in the Common Core.

Proposed guidelines required after Indiana became the first state to formally drop the Common Core are up for a final vote by the State Board of Education on Monday.

The proposed new Indiana education standards — published online and available for public review — are a guide for what students should learn in each grade. For example, one proposed math standard requires second graders to plot and compare whole numbers up to 1,000 on a number line.

Public debate among lawmakers over the benchmarks has largely been dominated by political criticism of the Common Core, which tea party and other advocates of states’ rights say were crafted with too little local input.

Gov. Mike Pence in March signed legislation making Indiana the first state to formally drop the Common Core, although those standards won’t be void until a replacement is found by the July deadline. All other states have adopted Common Core except Alaska, Texas, Nebraska, Virginia and Minnesota, which never signed on to both the math and English benchmarks.

A report from the Indiana nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency last week shows that making the switch to new standards will come at a price, both for schools and the state. A new test might mean spending as much as $26 million more a year, and professional development for teachers won’t come cheap.

Each teacher might need about $2,000 worth of training in the proposed standards based on studies of other states by the Fordham and Pioneer institutes, although the Fordham Institute noted online resources could bump that down to about $500.

In total, the move could cost between $32.5 million and $125 million for teacher development, the agency estimated.

“If the state is going to require something like that, they need to figure out funding,” said Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith. “I’d hate to see the state pass on another financial burden to schools based on a state mandate.”

Fort Wayne Community Schools plan on hammering out the details of its costs after the new state standards are approved, but spokeswoman Krista Stockman said “it will be costly.”

Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation Superintendent David Smith said the district has already invested about $6 million to align with the Common Core.

“We don’t have the money to invest,” Smith said. “It’s not as though we can now… approve a new set of resources. We will adapt resources we have to the new standards.”

But it could be too early to know exactly how much money it will cost to make the switch, said Derek Redelman, vice president of education and workforce development for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

If an analysis shows the standards are fairly similar to the Common Core — an argument debated by education officials and national experts — he said Indiana can simply supplement some of the resources already in place. The more Indiana moves away from those national standards, the more expensive it could get.

“It all really boils down to how much is truly different,” Redelman said.

The LSA report notes that the Department of Education could spend as much as $100,000 helping teachers with the transition through state-sponsored professional development, online resources and supplemental materials.

Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman said it’s too early to speculate on whether the department will ask lawmakers for more money to help with the transition.

“I’m not sure that this is necessarily going to call for more money for professional development,” said state Sen. Luke Kenley, a Noblesville Republican and a lead state budget writer. “This is part of the job of being a teacher — to adapt and utilize new and different standards.”

The LSA report also shows new tests planned for the 2014-2015 school year could cost the state an additional $10.5 million, up to $32 million for the following school year and $26 million more annually starting in the 2016-2017 school year, although those estimates are tentative and no test has yet been developed.

Online testing could save the state money, but districts might end up paying more to increase computer memory and expand bandwidth. One district cited in the report could spend up to $3 million for potential upgrades.

Still, state Sen. Dennis Kruse — a Republican from Auburn who authored this year’s bill to repeal Common Core — said developing standards specifically for Indiana is worth the price tag.

“It is justified to have our own assessment for our own standards,” he said. “The Legislature will appropriate the funds.”

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