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Bills consolidating online services and preparing for common core move on


SJA CABINET REPORT. APRIL 11, 2013. Lawmakers on Wednesday took the first step toward creating an updated, cohesive statewide technology network aimed at providing support to California schools and teachers as they transition to new common core curriculum standards and computer-based testing.

In addition to moving forward Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson’s SB 505 – which consolidates an existing network of regional technology resources under one program – the Senate Committee on Education also approved legislation that suspends California Standards Testing for second-graders and sets in motion the process for adoption of new textbooks aligned with impending new science standards.

Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said her bill will strengthen the state’s online education system by moving the California Technology Assistance Project, also known as CTAP, and the State Education Technology Service known as Tech SETS, under the K-12 High Speed Internet program.

“Together these programs provide professional development and training for teachers, assistance in technology planning and implementations for rural and technologically-underserved school districts; allow teachers to review electronic learning resources for alignment with content standards, and provide professional development for education administrators,” she explained.

The legislation, if adopted, protects CTAP and Tech SETS programs from disbandment by moving them under the umbrella of the K-12 High Speed Network. SB 505 also extends previously adopted sunset dates for the two programs from Jan. 1, 2014, to Jan. 1, 2017.

Left unaddressed in the bill, however, is a looming funding problem.

Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to restructure the school finance system – the Local Control Funding Formula – an allocation of $14 million now earmarked for CTAP and Tech SETS would be rolled into a lump-sum block grant to be distributed among districts and spent at the discretion of local school leaders.

Program officials and online education advocates worry that under Brown’s budget, school administrators, still facing budget prioritization choices, will choose to redirect technology funding to other more pressing educational needs – this at a time when the state is moving toward more online learning and computer-adaptive assessments.

However, just over $8 million remains allocated to support the K-12 High Speed Network, operated by a consortium consisting of the Imperial County Office of Education, Butte County Office of Education, and Mendocino County Office of Education. The network provides participating schools and local education agencies with network connectivity, internet services, network diagnostic services, teaching and learning application coordination, and videoconferencing coordination and support.

Lawmakers and advocates on Wednesday were nearly unanimous in echoing concerns about where additional funding to realign and maintain the new system will come from.

But, more importantly, said Jackson is taking action to first preserve the existing infrastructure and then look, during budget negotiations, for additional operational funding.

The High Speed Network also administers public school participation in the California Research and Education Network, which is the high-speed, high-bandwidth statewide network of hub sites linking all K-12, University of California, California State University, and community college node sites. CalREN is also linked to a national network, forming an advanced state and national (intranet) for educational use.  California's participation in CalREN allows network and internet services to be provided to nearly 8,000 schools, 861 school districts, and all of the county offices of education in the state, servicing nearly 4.8 million students.

In other action before the panel, lawmakers moved forward SB 300, by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, which requires the California State Board of Education to consider the adoption of a revised curriculum framework and evaluation criteria for instructional materials based on the new science curriculum standards.

The new science standards, aligned with national common core standards in mathematics and English language arts, are expected to be adopted by the state board this November.

Also given the green light Wednesday was SB 247 by the committee chair, Sen. Carol Liu, which would give the state and schools more time before instruction and testing is set to begin on the new common core standards in math and English language arts.

Liu’s bill would delay suspension of the state’s existing assessment system, the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program, until 2016 – two years later than existing law.

The bill is silent as to when exactly statewide testing on the common core would resume but it could be as far away as the spring of 2017, legislative sources said.

In addition, SB 247 would eliminate, as of July of next year, a state requirement that all second-graders participate in the STAR program.

But the bill directs the California Department of Education to “make available to school districts existing diagnostic assessments that are appropriate for grade 2” so that progress of these young students may continue to be monitored until the new system is in place.