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US officials threaten $3.5 billion in education funds to California

Many L.A. Unified students will be taking the new test on iPads.
Many L.A. Unified students will be taking the new test on iPads.
by Lexie Flickinger via Flickr

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In a letter to California's two top education officials, the U.S. Department of Education warned that $3.5 billion in federal funds to California could be in jeopardy if the state moves forward with a new law to test public school students in only one of two federally-mandated subjects.

"By failing to administer a reading/language arts and mathematics assessment to all students in the tested grades, California would be unable to provide this important information to students, principals, teachers, and parents," the letter from U.S. assistant secretary Deborah Delisle read. "In addition, because its new policy violates federal law, California now risks significant enforcement action by the Department."

RELATED: Will California schools be ready for new computerized test?

The letter ups the ante in the face-off between the state and federal government over the transition to new Common Core standards. Because the new test is still in testing phase, California recently passed a law which transitions students slowly. The test this coming Spring will be "practice" and districts only have to administer one of two tests. The law also keeps the results private - parents and the public won't know how schools or students performed.

State board of education president Michael Kirst said he was shocked by the missive, because he'd talked to federal officials about a compromise days before the letter went out.
"We were discussing alternatives and so on so it doesn't indicate a breakdown, I'm just saying it's a tactic in the middle of a process," he said.
Kirst believes federal officials are trying to discourage other states from copying California's plans.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has argued that schools and teachers need to be held accountable, even during the transition.

California officials say the transition's so massive the state needs at least a year to work through new test preparation and technology.

U.S. Department of Education Letter