Montana Common Core Proponents Raise Concerns Over Federal Money

Aaron Flint posted on February 26, 2015 12:28 :: 677 Views
Article Highlights
  • Proponents of Common Core in Montana are arguing that two bills which target the implementation of the standards could cost the state federal funding.
  • The bills’ sponsors refute the claims, noting that no other state that has opted out of the Common Core standars or its testing requirements have lost their federal money.

Proponents of the controversial Common Core state standards are now using fiscal reasons to push back against two bills — HB 377 and HB 501 — in the Montana legislature that target the implemenation of the standards by arguing that the bills “could” jeopardize federal funding for schools.

“There is a requirement within NCLB, within No Child Left Behind that states administer a uniform, statewide assessment. We believe that House Bill 501 creates a very real risk for us not being able to meet that requirement,” stated Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Dennis Parman in committee testimony on HB 501. “If we were not able to meet that requirement under NCLB, then our Title I funding and our special education funding could be in jeopardy.”

In hearings of the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, representatives from the State Office of Public Instruction (OPI) pointed directly at fiscal notes from the Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning which state that HB 377 and HB 501 would cost the state $3.63 million and $87 million in federal funding respectively, because both bills could cause Montana to not meet the federal standards necessary to receive the money.

The sponsors of both bills have strongly disputed the fiscal note claims.

In her opening testimony on HB 377, State Rep. Debra Lamm (R-Livingston) — also a co-sponsor of HB 501 — noted that the several states that had chosen to opt out of Common Core had not lost their federal assessment grant money.

“There are at least 6 states now that are completely getting out of the Common Core, as well as the testing,” Lamm stated. “Many more states have gotten out of the Smarter Balance testing, or the other consortium, which is essentially the same. No one has lost any funding to date.”

HB 377 is the full Common Core standards repeal bill, and HB 501 is a bill that gives clear ownership of data collected about students — such as those collected from Common Core compliant assessments — to the students or their legal guardians.

According to its fiscal note, HB 377 would cost the state $3.63 million in federal grant money, because, if the standards are repealed and not replaced with something that meets federal standards then the state would lose out on the federal assessment grant. HB 501’s fiscal note states that a total of $87 million is in jeopardy, because the new requirements about ownership and dissemination of student information would make it more difficult to administer a statewide assessment.

When later questioned by a legislator during the HB 377 hearing about the truth of Lamm’s statement about other states, Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau — who had earlier spoken in opposition to the bill — admitted that she did not know, saying that she had “been tracking this [Montana’s] legislature and not others.”

Lamm’s co-sponsor on HB 501, State Rep. Daniel Zolnikov (R-Billings), called that bill’s $87 million fiscal note “fear mongering” by OPI in an email to Media Trackers, and echoed Lamm’s observation that other states had not lost federal funds by adopting similar measures.

“Essentially, the department stated or assumed that Montana would no longer receive federal money as punishment for not complying,” Zolnikov wrote. “However, no other state has been stripped of its federal dollars, so there is no evidence to support this claim. The fiscal note is a fear mongering tool used by the department in an attempt to kill the bill.”

Zolnikov went on to state that getting permission for most testing and evaluations could be as simple as “attaching a one-line consent form to other educational paperwork.”

In her closing testimony on HB 377, Lamm noted that the requirements for federal funding were not specifically the Common Core standards.

“It doesn’t say that you can’t get rid of the Common Core standards, it just says that you have to have good standards,” Lamm said.

OPI officials and other opponents of the bill admitted that losing the federal funding was not a guarantee, but continued to emphasize during the hearings on both bills that they opened up the state to the possibility of losing the federal funding.

Both HB 377 and HB 501 passed the committee on 11-9 votes and now go to the full house for a third reading.

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