SB 4 a “huge unfunded mandate”?

A consortium of parents’ groups that was formed to advocate for increased education funding in Florida has sent a letter to Governor Crist asking him to veto the conforming bill (spending plan) for the state’s PreK-12 schools.  (Gradebook coverage here)

I have considerable sympathy for their arguments.  But there’s one argument in the letter that I just can’t quite get past.  In a list of items under a heading describing the conforming bill as being “Loaded with extra costs and cuts,” there is this item:  “Cost of implementing SB4 – huge unfunded mandate”

Really?!  Huge?

There is no doubt that there are some costs to districts associated with SB 4.  The Senate staff report on the bill said,

The number of credits required for high school graduation will remain at 24; however, students will be required to take higher-level courses in Math: Algebra II and geometry, and in Science: Biology I, and chemistry or physics. In these courses, student enrollment will increase substantially and additional teachers will be required. The teacher need will have to be met by reassigning appropriately certified teachers within the district or by hiring from outside. Reassignment of appropriately certified teachers may necessitate additional district professional development expenditures. The hiring of new teachers when sufficient teachers are not available within the district, particularly for chemistry or physics, may require payment of higher, market rate salaries. The cost of new hires may be partially offset through attrition.

Initially, there may be some additional cost for credit recovery or non-promotion for some students who are unsuccessful with the higher standards. However, generally, student performance will increase to meet the higher expectations as the program is fully implemented. Moreover, there may be a reduction in future years for remediation costs.

I certainly hope all the math teachers in Florida’s high schools are capable of teaching Algebra 2.  If so, that’s not the problem.

The problem seems to be science.  Enrollments in Biology 1 will not increase very much – the course-taking rate in that subject is already close to 100%.  Physics enrollments will not grow because chemistry is a prerequisite for physics in Florida’s districts.  So the problem is chemistry.  The number of students taking chemistry in Florida every year will increase by more than 40,000.  Yes, that means we’ll need more teachers who are qualified to teach chemistry.  Maybe 400.  That sounds like a lot of money.

But here’s the catch:  The state already requires three science courses for graduation.  Under SB 4, the state will still require three science courses for graduation.  So we don’t need any additional science teaching positions.  We just need those positions filled with teachers who are qualified to teach the courses we should have been focusing on all along.

So when science teaching positions become vacant we will need to fill those positions with qualified chemistry teachers.  We will need to retrain some teachers to teach chemistry.

How much will this cost?

I’ve been arguing that we need to be prepared to pay starting chemistry teachers $5,000 more per year than teachers in most other fields.  If we hired 400 chemistry teachers with that differential, that would be $2,000,000 per year statewide.  That doesn’t meet my definition of “huge”.

What if we get the 400 new chemistry teachers via a crash professional development program costing $5,000 per teacher per year, and running for three consecutive summers – sort of like the University of Washington program I featured previously.  That would be a one-time expenditure of $6,000,000.  Again, that doesn’t seem “huge” to me.

Somebody please tell me if I’m missing something here.  I’m afraid we’re going to have to file “huge unfunded mandate” in the SB 4 Folklore File right next to “catastrophic decrease in graduation rate.”

I can hardly believe I’m criticizing FundEducationNow.org.  What’s next for my decaying soul?

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This entry was posted in High School Graduation Standards, Physics teacher preparation, Teacher professional development and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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