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Legislators question cost of Common Core implementation

NATCHEZA group of state senators are questioning new educational standards in Mississippi saying the standards are costly to implement.

Local education officials agree implementation will be costly, but also say those conversations might be too late with the first day of school only weeks away.

Mississippi adopted the Common Core State Standards, which are a set of nationally adopted standards, in 2010 with the goal of having them fully implemented in kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and math by the 2013-2014 school year.

The new standards are expected to be more rigorous and provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn.

The Mississippi Senate Conservative Coalition released a statement last week saying legislators planned to take a closer look at the curriculum citing more overreach from the federal government, higher than expected costs, potentially lower overall standards and possible race-based standards.

Sen. Melanie Sojourner (R-Natchez) is one of 11 members of the coalition and said there are several portions of the standards that are alarming.

“I just think it’s a really good time to say, ‘Let’s make sure we know what we’re doing before we stick ourselves with something that might not be the best solution,’” Sojourner said. “A lot of things looked good on the cover, but when everyone rolled up their sleeves and started looking into everything we said, ‘Wait a minute.’”

Lawmakers opposed to Common Core have been marshaling their arguments in recent weeks, apparently girding for a legislative challenge next year.

Oklahoma and Georgia have pulled out of implementing Common Core and the Indiana legislature put implementation on hold asking for a cost-benefit analysis.

Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Frederick Hill said he’s not surprised by the coalition’s comments.

“You have a lot of states announcing they’re taking a stance against Common Core, so it doesn’t surprise me,” Hill said. “For now, we have to move forward with full implementation of Common Core.”

Hill said the cost issues are something with which he agrees.

“Here in the district alone, you’re talking about thousands of dollars that we have to have spend in technology costs to prepare for this year and next year,” Hill said. “It’s truly a concern.”

While all students will be learning Common Core material this upcoming school year, students won’t be tested on that material until 2014-2015 school year.

Those tests will be taken electronically, forcing school districts across the state to upgrade their technology, Hill said.

“We have to bear that cost alone because we have to have the computer and technological capacity ready for the assessments,” Hill said. “We’re already budgeting for that.”

The district originally planed on spending $91,000 this upcoming school year to prepare for Common Core, but split that cost over two years during cost cutting this year.

Sojourner said she and other members of the coalition would continue discussing Common Core issues with education officials in hopes of figuring out a reasonable solution.

“We don’t have all the answers, but why take on all of these additional, tremendous costs and changes when you can continue to do what you’re doing now until we get it all figured out?” Sojourner said. “We’re going to meet with a couple of different groups in the state about some other options or some ways to move forward.We all realize education is certainly a tremendous priority.”