schools.jpgBay Area business leaders joined a state legislator from the South Bay today to call on Gov. Jerry Brown to reinstate funding for California’s statewide education data system.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, joined Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored public policy organization, to push for the governor to reverse the proposed cuts, part of his revised budget plan released last month.

Brown proposed to suspend about $8.5 million in federal funding for the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, CALPADS, as well as CALTIDES, its sister program to track teacher performance.

The programs have been developed in the past decade and would allow officials to better track student achievement over time, more accurately calculate graduation and dropout rates, and help local districts learn about best practices from elsewhere in the state.

Wunderman said the programs are already in place in various parts of the state and are ready to be rolled out statewide by next year, so the suspension of funding for it does not make sense.

“We’re at a point where we’re right about to the goal line in fully implementing the system,” he said. “It seems extremely questionable when we’ve come this far down the road to take a step back and undo so much of what’s already been done.”

Simitian, whose 2006 legislation authorized the creation of CALTIDES, said even in bad budgetary times, the data systems make sense because they help officials see how effective various programs and policies are for students.

“Right now we spend tens of billions of dollars of public funds without the ability to really say why that is a value to the taxpayer,” he said. “Districts are being forced to make hard choices, and (with these systems) they can make the choices with the best value.”

A spokesman for Brown was not immediately available for comment, but in his revised budget proposal released in May, the governor said he wants to suspend funding for the programs because they do not adequately address problems with testing and data collection in the state’s public schools.

In the budget proposal document, Brown’s administration said, “Testing takes huge amounts of time from classroom instruction. Data collection requirements are cumbersome and do not provide timely–and therefore usable–information back to schools. Teachers are forced to curb their own creativity and engagement with students as they focus on teaching to the test.”

Brown’s administration proposed suspending the funding for the programs while looking at possible reforms, including reducing the amount of time devoted to state testing in schools and restoring power to local school districts, teachers and parents.

However, opponents of Brown’s proposal said eliminating the programs could put other current and future federal funding for California’s schools at risk since much of it requires states having systems to track student data.

“We’re asking the governor not to cancel or put on hold” funding for the systems, Wunderman said. “We feel very strongly that if it’s put on hold, it will in effect kill the system.”

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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