$3.1 billion needed for algebra mandate

August 12, 2008 6:37:23 PM PDT
Despite the budget crisis, the state superintendent of education is telling the governor he needs an extra $3 billion now to add mandatory 8th grade algebra instruction to the state curriculum. It's instruction the governor pushed for, but can the state afford it?

A month after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of California, swayed the California Board of Education to mandate Algebra 1 for all 8th graders, State Superintendent Jack O'Connell (D) challenged him to put his money where his mouth is. He says he needs $3.1 billion this year to start gearing up.

"Short of that, you'd be setting our students up for failure and that's my concern," said Superintendent O'Connell.

Even though the Algebra 1 mandate doesn't start for another three years, O'Connell says he needs the money now to recruit 3,300 new full-time math teachers, reduce class sizes and create extra programs to help kids who are struggling.

State statistics show an embarrassingly low number of California 8th graders have any of those math skills.

Of the students who took the state test last year, only 20 percent demonstrated the minimum proficiency in algebra. It's worse among students of color. Only 13 percent of Latino students and 10 percent of African-American students scored high enough.

The California Mathematics Council fears three years is too short of time to get everyone up to speed without extra funding.

"One of the leading causes of high school dropout is the pressure of trying to pass Algebra 1. And I think now, if we're going to force all of them to do it in 8th grade, I would expect more kids, maybe, to dropout," said Gretchen Muller, from the California Mathematics Council.

However Governor Schwarzenegger, who considers himself a big believer in education, will not say how much more money schools will get to meet the new Algebra 1 requirement. The state is in a fiscal crisis, and in this tough budget year, he's already proposed that schools do without $4 billion in cost-of-living increases for various programs.

"The Governor is committed to making sure we have the resources necessary to be able to implement having the highest algebra standards in the world," said Aaron McLear, the governor's press secretary.

O'Connell was never a big fan of the 8th Grade Algebra 1 requirement because it has never been proven to help kids at that level. No other state does it. He's hoping if Schwarzenegger can't come up with the extra money, rescinding the policy.


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