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Nickels and dimes add up to $400m we don’t need to spend on schools

Submitted by on Tuesday, 2 February 2010 No Comment

Every time a kid in California misses more than three days of school, the district spits out a form letter notifying parents that the student’s a truant.

Because the state requires districts to send that letter it pays the district for its efforts, to the tune of $17 per document.

The total to California taxpayers for this and other efforts that do little to curb truancy: Almost $23 million a year.

The truancy procedures and other mandates the state pays public school and community college districts to perform will add up to $400 million this year, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office says in a new report.

Many of the mandates have little to do with improving education and actually encourage districts to operate inefficiently, the report continues. That means that most of the $400 million is money California doesn’t need to spend.

“Mandates” are unique to California and came about because of a constitutional amendment requiring the state to reimburse local governments for costs of programs or paperwork the state requires. In the case of schools and community colleges, there are 51 mandates they are eligible to be reimbursed for, the LAO report says.

Not that the state pays them – California will face a $3.6 billion – that “b” is not a typo – backlog by the end of the current budget year, the report continues.

Many of the mandates exist simply because of sloppily written laws. For example, the state pays districts to submit data on physical education even though the information already was being collected during annual audits. The state pays schools to remove certain chemicals from science classrooms even though districts already were required to do so under separate state laws.

And in the case of the truancy mandate, No Child Left Behind already required schools to take steps to increase parental involvement. The LAO contends that the $17 notification form letters easily could fall under that requirement.

The truancy mandate illustrates another problem with the system: It lets the rich get richer. Bigger California districts often have a full staff devoted to filing claims for state mandates, while smaller districts muddle through with a single administrator. As a result, the truancy money often goes to “affluent districts with very low dropout rates,” the LAO says.

The LAO recommends keeping only a dozen mandates in tact and greatly simplifying the reimbursement process for them. The rest can easily go, saving taxpayers $350 million a year.

There no doubt will be a staunch defender of every mandate on the recommended elimination list, with the most passionate pleas coming from the districts that collect the most money.

But, really, in a state in the financial state that California’s in, with an education system that’s struggling, why continue to force districts to duplicate effort, promise you’re going to pay them for the redundancy and then keep saying “the check’s in the mail” when officials know it’s not going to be?

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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