In stereotypical Sacramento backroom fashion, Governor Jerry Brown and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) cut a deal on a November initiative to raise taxes. The governor claims that the tax hikes are necessary to close a $9 billion deficit and put a patch on the state education budget. What he and his union allies don’t mention is that in the coming years significant chunks of the revenues from these higher taxes will have to pay for President Barack Obama’s new national education standards and tests.
The governor and the CFT melded their competing tax-hike proposals into one vehicle that will increase the income tax rate on top earners to a national high of 13.3 percent and raise the state sales tax by a quarter percent. While some have pointed out correctly that burgeoning unfunded state teacher-pension liabilities will eat up much of the new revenue for education, almost no one has acknowledged the massive spending obligations that are coming down the pike courtesy of the Obama-supported national standards-and-testing regime.
When Mr. Obama dangled federal “Race to the Top” grant money in front of the states in exchange for the states adopting new national standards and testing, most states quickly agreed to dump their existing state standards and tests. Like a lemming, California joined the mad rush, discarded its highly praised state academic-content standards, accepted the comparatively less-rigorous national standards, and now finds itself heading over a fiscal cliff. The state ended up not getting the “Race to the Top” money, and instead has received an expensive bill to implement the new mediocre standards.
A just-released study co-sponsored by the Boston-based Pioneer Institute and the Pacific Research Institute (PRI) finds that the national standards will impose huge new costs such as teacher re-training. So, for instance, teachers who have been used to teaching traditional subjects like algebra and geometry will now have to teach nebulously labeled courses entitled Integrated Math I, II and III. Based on the number of teachers in California, the study estimates that “initial core training for teachers in all California schools would cost approximately $627.6 million.”
The Washington Post notes that besides math, “There will be many changes in other subjects that schools will have to adjust to.” Also, new textbooks aligned to the national standards must be purchased and new testing systems created. Not only is there no evidence that these changes will raise student achievement, the cost of implementing them will be enormous.
The cost for new instructional materials is estimated to be $483 million. Annual price tag for the new tests would be $35 million. Further, as the Pioneer-PRI study points out, because the new tests “will be available exclusively as an online assessment, many California schools would need to make substantial expenditures in technology infrastructure and capacity.” The study projects “that California schools would need to make an initial one-time investment of about $418.5 million in computers and other infrastructure as well as additional annual expense, assuming a testing window comparable to current state policy.”
Add up all these varied costs and the one-time price tag for California to implement the national standards and tests comes to more than $1.5 billion. Many of the component costs, however, will continue year after year. The study, therefore, estimates a seven-year cost to California of nearly $2.4 billion. Nationally, for all participating states, the seven-year cost is estimated to be a whopping $15.8 billion.
Governor Brown claims that his proposed tax increases are needed to save education in California. However, a big chunk of any new tax revenues will go to fund a massive change in the state’s education system that has received little scrutiny, public debate or research support. Before Californians vote for higher taxes, they should ask what they are paying for and if it’s worth the price.