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First phase of CAP4K could cost $142 million

Implementing just the first phase of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids reform program could cost $131.5 million to $142.4 million or more, according to an estimate prepared by consultants.

All but about $3 million of that burden would fall on school districts and other local education agencies, according to the estimate prepared by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates and the Colorado School Finance Project.

The CAP4K law, passed in 2008, proposes a broad restructuring of the state’s education system, including descriptions of school and postsecondary and workforce readiness, new content standards, a new state testing system, alignment of local school curricula with the new standards, new types of high school diplomas and alignment of college admissions requirements with the new K-12 system. CAP4K is intended to be phased in through 2014.

The potential costs of the new system have been a concern from the start, and the law contains a provision that requires detailed studies of its those costs. The first phase of the study was presented to the State Board of Education Wednesday. The other two phases are due Oct. 1, 2010 and Oct. 1, 2011.

The first study covers only the costs of planning for the new content standards and for the school readiness and postsecondary and workforce readiness descriptions. At the state level, the work is basically done on those issues. The state board last year adopted new standards and the two descriptions.

The Department of Education has been working for several months on the design of a new state testing system. The board is supposed to vote on that in December, although it’s possible the legislature this year will make some change in CAP4K deadlines.

The cost of a new testing system, which will be included in a later Augenblick report, is a major concern for education policymakers and for lawmakers. A rough CDE estimate made last year calculated that implementing a new system could cost up to $80 million.

The report presented to the board Wednesday estimates the first-phase costs to CDE at $1.5 million and $1.7 million in costs for the higher education system. The tab for school districts was put at $128.5  million to $139.2 million.

And, the report noted, “School districts, in particular, are only beginning to implement CAP4K and their understanding of what will be required for them is limited; as such, it is difficult to predict what their costs will be at this time. … All figures in this report should be considered rough estimates at this stage and APA intends to review and refine these figures to produce a more complete and accurate cost picture in our subsequent report.”

The state’s school districts are especially sensitive to the specter of new costs this year because of planned cuts in state school aid in 2010-11 and uncertain financial prospects after that.

The state’s $377 million first-round application for Race to the Top funds requested some funds that  would have been used for CAP4K implementation. Colorado didn’t win that round and is reapplying for the R2T second round. But Colorado’s potential award in that round looks to be no more than $175 million, making R2T a less likely solution for CAP4K costs.

Links to report and supporting documents

Check Education News later for an expanded version of this story.