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State schools chief backs $9 billion bond for K-12 technology

  • Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, talks with sixth-grade teacher Paul Salmon during a visit to Steinbeck Elementary School in Salinas on Oct. 9, 2013. The California state schools chief is backing a $9 billion bond measure in 2014 to build up the technology infrastructure at K-12 campuses. (photo by Monterey County Herald / AP)

California's state schools chief is backing a $9 billion bond measure in 2014 to build up the technology infrastructure at K-12 campuses.

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson said Tuesday that California's schools must be prepared and outfitted to handle a dramatically new standardized testing system that will eventually require all students to be tested on computers rather than with pencils and fill-in-the-bubble sheets.

“There are big issues with bandwidth, Internet connecting devices,” he said.

Bond money would not be used for devices like iPads, he said, but would focus on expanding and improving connectivity for all campuses. Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo), is expected to sponsor the bill.

Privately funded polling to test voters' appetite for school spending is expected to be conducted in the coming months.

Voters in 2006 approved a $10.4 billion school bond package, including $7.3 billion for kindergarten through 12th grades capital projects. Of those funds, $318 million remains unreserved for projects in six categories including modernization, new construction and career technical facilities.

Last year, voters approved Proposition 30, temporarily increasing the state sales tax by a quarter-cent and income taxes on the wealthy by 1 percent to 3 percent. The move staved off what Gov. Jerry Brown said would have been $4.8 billion in cuts to K-12 education last year but did not infuse new money into education coffers.

“Some people thought Prop. 30 cured everything,” Torlakson said.

California's third- through 11th-graders are set to test the new standardized testing system this spring.

California bucked demands of the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan when lawmakers this month approved the suspension of the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program — a major component of the federal accountability system. Instead, students will participate in a field test of the Smarter Balanced exam that is being called a “test of the test” and will highlight how prepared schools are to give the exam entirely on computers.

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