Education Funding, Testing Questions Face State Lawmakers

As the 2015 sessions continue to roll along, lawmakers are continuing to examine crucial education policy issues, underscored by the nationally divisive debates around education funding and testing requirements: both of which will be framed and complicated by the ongoing, overarching debate on the Common Core state standards.

Education funding will remain a salient issue this year as states continue to face tight budgets, a growing list of education priorities and seemingly limitless number of federal mandates. In an effort to confront new budget challenges, states including Georgia, Nevada and Vermont have prioritized reforming school funding formulas in the upcoming year. The goal of raising teacher salaries, which produced a protracted debate in North Carolina during its 2014 legislative session, is likely to remain prominent as other states, including Idaho and New Mexico, seek to enact similar reforms.

Standardized testing, another key issue in education debates each year, is likely to become even more prevalent in the national and statewide education debates in 2015, when 11.5 million students will begin taking Common Core-aligned assessments for English and math. Following opt-out movements in Colorado, Florida, Illinois and New York, other states and the U.S. Congress are looking at how to test students appropriately and how best to mine the resulting data from these tests.

According to a report from the Center for American Progress, a group supportive of the Common Core-aligned tests for their “higher quality” over district-implemented tests, 49 percent of parents think students take too many standardized tests. According to The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs and Research, 61 percent of parents think their children are given the right amount of standardized tests and 75 percent of parents think standardized tests are an accurate measure of students’ abilities.

Standardize Testing

This conflicting data underscores the difficulty in wading through bias for a clear snapshot of the American mood toward standardized testing, water muddied further by parents’ general lack of understanding of the Common Core state standards. The AP report says 52 percent of parents “have heard little or nothing about the academic benchmarks” and one third of parents surveyed are unsure if their state has implemented the standards. Despite the uncertainty in how students are tested and the quality and origins of those tests, parents and legislators are poised to continue pushing back against the sheer volume of testing that has become routine in school districts nationwide.

Much of the testing backlash stems from concerns over the Common Core state standards that were originally adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. The standards continue to come under increasing scrutiny from both sides of the aisle, and according to a PDK/Gallup Poll, 60 percent of Americans oppose the standards. While some critics of the standards argue that the testing is too rigorous and doesn’t fairly assess student and teacher performance, others, mostly on the right, rage against what they perceive as a nationwide takeover of schools by the federal government.