Most teachers across Wisconsin will incorporate the Common Core standards into math and English lessons this fall. Joseph W. Jackson III / For the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
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Tegan Wendland reports for Wisconsin Public Radio on how though the new Common Core standards cost the state nothing to implement, individual districts are footing the bill.

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Wisconsin’s new Common Core standards for math and English cost the state very little to implement because individual districts are footing the bill, which likely will come to about $25 million.

Those are among the major findings of a report released last week by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a nonpartisan agency that was asked by legislators to evaluate the costs of Common Core, an increasingly controversial set of voluntary standards for K-12 schools.

Common Core sets new and often more rigorous goals for the nation’s students at each grade level, but is under fire from critics who range from Tea Party activists to educators.

School districts will spend an estimated $25 million to shift their curriculums from old education standards to Common Core, the Fiscal Bureau said.

The report acknowledged that precise figures are not available. Under one type of projection, the cost of implementation could reach $174.5 million above non-Common Core expenses, but the $25 million figure is most likely, the report said.

The report draws on previous calculations from the right-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which has advocated nationwide for the new standards. The state said it used the institute’s figures because “calculating such figures specifically for Wisconsin, given the decentralized system of school governance in place and the lack of data … is not possible.”

Rep. Mandy Wright (D-Wausau) said that despite the price tag, the standards are worthwhile.

“I do think that’s a significant amount of funding, and nothing to be borne lightly, however we do need to move forward,” Wright said in response to the report.

“I don’t think we want to stay in a system that doesn’t test our students for college and career readiness.”

According to the report, implementation of the standards has not directly cost the state any additional funds.

Wisconsin school districts operate with money from the state, the federal government and from local property taxes. Because the districts use state money, some state funds were likely used in Common Core upgrades at the district level.

The only direct expense taken from state coffers is the new Common Core-aligned standardized tests to begin in 2014-15.

According to the Department of Public Instruction’s budget and policy director, Mike Bormett, the state will spend $14.6 million on testing, including Common Core-aligned tests in 2014-15 — $8.3 million more than the cost of tests this year.

A DPI spokesperson said staff will need more time to review the report before commenting on it directly.

“From the state level, we haven’t allocated an additional penny toward Common Core implementation,” said Emilie Amundson, Common Core State Standards team director for the Department of Public Instruction, in an interview before the report was released.

“It’s the work that we do. We revise standards and we support the field in making that transition.”

The report was produced in response to a budget provision drafted by Republican legislators calling for a “comprehensive evaluation” of the Common Core. Authors of the provision, Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, and Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, did not return requests for comment on the report.

The study also explored the potential cost of replacing Common Core in Wisconsin, which would require drafting of new standards by July 2014 and correlated tests to comply with the state’s “No Child Left Behind” waiver.

“If the common core were discontinued … a significant amount of work at the school district level … would need to be duplicated,” says the report, prepared by the Fiscal Bureau’s Layla Merrifield. “Wisconsin could develop a new set of standards specific to the state, which could take one or two years.

“The cost of conducting such a process is indeterminate.”

Karen Schroeder, founder and president of the conservative Advocates for Academic Freedom, opposes the standards and thinks they should be jettisoned.

“I think most parents are more than willing to spend reasonable amounts of justifiable expenses for curriculum and standards that are worthy,” said Schroeder, if it meant that districts were making the decisions, rather than out-of-state groups, and replacement standards were more rigorous than Common Core.

Since State Superintendent Tony Evers adopted the standards in 2010, school districts across the state have incorporated them into math and English curriculums. The standards are more detailed than Wisconsin’s previous standards and require more critical thinking and analysis.

Over the past several months, opposition has grown against the Common Core from both conservative and liberal skeptics. One of the arguments against the standards has been that they were adopted in Wisconsin without a cost projection.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau report is the first study on Common Core released since the budget passed. And the Joint Legislative Council has yet to announce if it will undertake a study of Common Core, as legislators have requested.

In determining other potential costs of undoing Common Core in Wisconsin, the Fiscal Bureau reports that the state spent $84.5 million over the course of 10 years for the state’s previous standardized tests. Wisconsin officials would have to develop a test again, if the state chooses to repeal Common Core.

Some districts have invested additional money in Common Core.

The Waunakee Community School District board has authorized additional funds from end of year balances for materials, curriculum projects, and professional development — some of which aligned to the Common Core. But the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, Tim Schell, said it is difficult to calculate a specific figure, “because the Common Core is interwoven with other literacy and mathematics initiatives.”

Milwaukee Public Schools received $20.4 million over five years from the GE Foundation to help implement the Common Core in the district.

Rep. Wright thinks the corporate support shows the value of Common Core to businesses, adding, “It is something that we should make a priority and something that we should collectively fund.”

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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