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Report: CAP4K cost $384 million

Implementation of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids school reform program could cost up to $384 million, according to a new report commissioned by the state.

The bulk of those costs – $328 million – would fall on the state’s 178 school districts, already battered by $776 million in budget cuts over the last few years, according to the report by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates.

The costs include $178.2 million for “one-time preparation” expenses and $205.7 million for “ongoing implementation,” the study concludes. Those overall estimates cover not only the state Department of Education and school districts but also costs to be borne by the Department of Higher Education and individual colleges and universities.

The total estimated costs include – and are not in addition to – the $142 million identified in an initial, April 2010 report by the firm.

The CAP4K law was passed by the 2010 legislature and requires statewide definitions of school readiness and “postsecondary and workforce” readiness, new state content standards, a new statewide testing system to replace CSAP, creation of specialized diplomas that more accurately reflect the readiness of individual students and coordination of state college admissions requirements with the new state K-12 system.

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The readiness definitions and content standards have been completed, but the rest of the program remains to be designed and built out. The law envisions full implementation in 2014. (Implementation of another major reform program, the 2010 educator evaluation system, also depends on a successful roll-out of CAP4K.)

During debate on CAP4K, school district interests were deeply concerned about the potential costs of the program, and the requirements for cost studies were amended into the bill as it worked its way through the General Assembly.

The first APA report focused on the costs of the readiness definitions and new content standards.

The second report, released by CDE on Friday, deals with “the implementation phase of each of these areas as they relate to the overall implementation of the new assessment system for CAP4K,” in the words of the study.

The report notes, “At the time of our data collection, CDE had not released their recommendations for the assessment administration method. It was assumed that the length of time needed for each testing subject area assessment will be approximately the same as the amount of time currently required to administer a CSAP subject area test, regardless of whether it is administered online or paper/pencil.”

The document continues, “The development of new assessments is expected to cost the state $25 million [based on current CDE projections.] Ongoing it is estimated that it will cost the state $38.1 million for the new state assessment system annually once the transition is completed, roughly $16.7 million more than the current assessment system.”

Testing costs are expected to be a sensitive issue during the 2012 legislative session, as lawmakers wrestle with an overall budget shortfall of up to $500 million and possible K-12 cuts of $300-$300 million. Some lawmakers already have raised the possibility of delaying implementation of a new testing system for a year, until 2015. Other lawmakers who pushed unsuccessfully in the past to reduce the scope of statewide testing may raise that issue again.

Some lawmakers and district officials also are worried about the possibility that costs of developing new tests will be “taken off the top” of state aid to districts, leading to further cuts in classroom spending.

The study used what it calls the “professional judgment” method of research, which means information was gathered by talking to CDE, higher education and district administrators. Augenblick has a long track record of doing finance studies for state governments, districts and other organizations.

Justin Silverstein, an APA researcher, was an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the recently completed Lobato v. State school funding trial. During the trial defendants’ experts criticized the professional judgment method. (See Education News Colorado archive of Lobato coverage.)

Legislators and education leaders contacted Friday by EdNews were unavailable or hadn’t seen the study.

Christine Scanlan, top lobbyist for Gov. John Hickenlooper and a key CAP4K sponsor when she served in the state House, said she hadn’t seen the report. Tony Salazar, executive director of the Colorado Education Association, said the same thing.

Bruce Caughey, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, said, “The work done by Augenblick Palaich is grounded in solid research and tells a story that needs to be told. … Yes, let’s move forward with CAP4K and additional reforms, but let’s fund the actual work required. We need resources to do the get the job done right.”

As a lobbyist, Caughey pushed hard to get the cost-study requirement included in the CAP4K law.

Augenblick will issue a third and final report on CAP4K costs in October 2012. The report released Friday notes, “All figures from that report [the first one] were considered to be rough estimates based upon available knowledge at the stage, and APA reviewed and refined these figures to produce a more complete and accurate cost picture in this report and will finalize these figures in the third and final report.”