Gov’s big data plan for schools faces headwind

Gov’s big data plan for schools faces headwind

(Calif.) A key oversight committee expressed skepticism that the state can deliver on a plan to integrate education data systems—either on time or within budget.

A majority of the Assembly’s Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance expressed concerns about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to spend $10 million in one-time money to pay for planning and early implementation of a “cradle to career” data system.

“I’m still not convinced why we need to do this,” said Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, and chair of the education committee.

“Given how long it will take and how much it will cost—I’m just not sure what we are trying to accomplish,” he said. “People in Sacramento like to create things, throw a lot of money at something before they’ve really asked fundamental questions.”

Despite the questions, the panel moved to keep the item open as negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders progress on the state budget, which faces a mid-June deadline.

At issue is the state’s inability to answer basic questions about the performance of K-12 schools—mostly because existing state education data systems cannot communicate with one-another.

Indeed, the primary K-12 data collection tool, the California Longitudinal Pupil Assessment and Data System, or CalPADS, is not aligned with similar tools run by state colleges and universities, or the teacher credentialing commission.

While none of the members of the Assembly subcommittee suggested that the goal of having seamless coordination of school data wasn’t a good one, their concerns expressed at a hearing Tuesday seemed to center on whether state officials had the capacity to carry out the mission.

“There is an obvious need,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy, D-Sacramento and chairman of the subcommittee. “But because of prior records, I’m not a big fan of data projects. The state has a terrible record when it comes to large-scale IT plans, some of them have been nightmares.”

The non-partisan Legislative Analyst also raised several additional issues—perhaps most important was that under the governor’s proposal, the Legislature itself would have no role in developing the new system.

“Under the proposed trailer bill language, the only responsibility for the Legislature would be to appropriate the $10 million in one-time funds,” the LAO said in a briefing paper. “All other core responsibilities—including choosing the work group representatives, reviewing work group reports, deciding on the governance structure, selecting the data system structure, and approving $6.7 million in funds for project implementation—would fall exclusively to the Governor or Department of Finance.

“In effect, the Legislature would be appropriating funds for a project without knowing what it would get in return and without any assurance that the final product would be consistent with its priorities,” analysts said.

The LAO suggested that lawmakers create a joint powers authority to provide the administrative oversight of the project, which would be made up of representatives from all levels of the education system as well as the administration and the Legislature.

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