Implementing Common Core Could Cost States $30 Billion

Published November 28, 2011

Cash-strapped state education budgets have another fiscal burden looming: the cost of implementing Common Core standards.

Based on a range of state estimates, a reasonable estimate of the total nationwide cost “would be $30 billion,” said Liv Finne, director of the Washington Policy Institute’s education center. Forty-five states and Washington, DC have adopted the Core in the past two years, largely in attempts to receive Obama administration grants.

Many states have not evaluated the cost of implementing the Core, notes a 2011 McGraw-Hill education brief, but will be working through implementation in the next three years, so by 2014 most changes will be in place.

In the state of Washington, the total cost of implementing the standards—which includes changes to textbooks, teacher training, and state tests—will likely be more than $300 million, according to the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. For larger states such as California, the cost will be much higher.

“The California Department of Education estimates that it will cost the state almost $760 million to implement the Common Core,” said Lance Izumi, senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute. “EdSource, a respected Northern California-based education-research organization, estimates the cost to be up to $1.6 billion.”

‘Fiscal Madness’
In the current stagnant economy, piling on another major cost “will play havoc with California’s deficit-ridden budget,” Izumi says.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office just released figures showing General Fund revenues for the 2011-12 fiscal year will be $3.7 billion below projections. The shortfall will cause $2 billion in cuts to state programs and a $3 billion deficit at the end of the fiscal year, Izumi said. The state also faces a $10 billion deficit in 2012-13.

“Adding up to a billion-and-a-half-dollar expenditure to implement national standards under these circumstances is fiscal madness,” Izumi said. 

State budget deficits totaled approximately $103 billion in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, according to an American Enterprise Institute report, and a substantial portion of these deficits relate to education since it is one of states’ major expenditures and includes pensions for teachers, one of the largest government workforces. The state of Washington currently faces a $2 billion budget deficit.

Seen as Federal Encroachment
Beyond the financial burden, state governments and analysts express concern about the federal government’s involvement in the standards push and the encroachment on state authority. Texas and South Carolina legislators refused to adopt the national standards for this reason.

The Obama administration has made receiving federal dollars, including Race to the Top grants, contingent on states adopting the standards, referring to them as “college- and career-ready” standards and then declaring the Common Core as the only set fitting that designation. The president’s Blueprint for Education Reform would require adopting the Common Core for states to receive Title I funding for low-income schools. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently said he would require states to adopt “college-and-career-ready” standards as a condition for waivers of the largest federal education law, No Child Left Behind.

Such federal involvement is a slippery slope to federal control of education standards nationwide, and will “eviscerates what remains of state and local authority over education policymaking,” Izumi said. “National tests will be aligned to the national standards. A national curriculum will be aligned to the national tests and the national standards. Instead of locally elected school board members and state legislators making decisions, power will be transferred to faceless, unelected federal education bureaucrats.”

Bill Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution in California, voices a similar concern:

“National standards will impose a template of uniformity on American classrooms and will block innovation,” he said. “Decision makers in DC are too far from classrooms to be dictating curriculum, and teachers and children will be ill-served by the resulting inflexibility.”

Poor Quality Standards
Beyond the high cost to states and poor fit for individual students, some experts report the standards are of poor quality.

The Common Core Language Arts standards “will lead to a lower level of literacy for all high school students,” said Sandra Stotsky, a professor in the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform who sat on a Common Core review panel. “‘College readiness standards’ are simply language skill sets, and [the Common Core’s] grade-level standards are mostly language skill sets, with little substantive content.”

The standards cannot “serve as the basis for tests that can assess readiness for authentic college-level work,” Stotsky said. 

Cost of Ceding Authority
In addition to the fiscal costs of implementing the Common Core, states are weighing the perhaps even greater cost of ceding education authority to federal control

“Utah has already spent millions of dollars on training teachers and updating assessments and curriculum to align with the Common Core,” said Matthew Piccolo, a policy analyst at the Utah-based Sutherland Institute. “Worse, though, it is getting on a bandwagon that could lead to a federally mandated national curriculum.”

Instead of centralizing education decisions, Piccolo says local control is the best approach.

“Students need an individualized education, not one dictated by educrats 2,000 miles away in Washington,” Piccolo said. “When it comes to education, state and local autonomy are vital for student success.”


Image by Wonderlane.