In this post, we provide background on how the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) stores credential records and describe the Governor’s proposal to provide $1.5 million onetime (special funds) to digitize the records of teachers issued credentials prior to 1989. We find that the proposal is not cost-effective and recommend the Legislature reject it.
CTC Stores Credential Records. To become a teacher in California, individuals must meet certain educational requirements and submit credential applications to CTC. For each applicant, CTC maintains a record that includes college transcripts, completed CTC application forms, and the credentials ultimately issued. CTC accesses these records for certain purposes, such as when a school district contacts CTC to verify that a newly hired teacher holds a valid credential. The need for CTC to access these records typically ends once a teacher retires from the teaching profession.
Records Since 1989 Stored Digitally, Records From Before 1989 Typically Stored on Microfiche. CTC’s records are stored in two primary ways. Copies of credentials (and associated teacher application materials) that have been issued from 1989 to the present are stored in a digital format that CTC staff can access via computers. Copies of credentials (and their associated teacher application materials) issued before 1989 typically are stored on microfiche (miniature transparencies). If the original microfiche has been lost, CTC stores credential records on notecards. CTC currently stores these microfiche and notecard files in its Sacramento office. In the event CTC receives requests for information regarding credentials issued prior to 1989, CTC staff retrieve the records manually and enter the details of the records into a digital and searchable database. Though some files from before 1989 have been converted to digital format due to case-by-case requests, CTC estimates that it still houses 1.3 million teacher records from prior to 1989, with records dating as far back as the late 1800s.
Governor’s Budget Provides $1.5 Million Onetime (Special Funds) for Digitization of Credential Records. The Governor proposes to digitize all CTC records related to credentials issued from the late 1800s through 1988. As some of the records have begun to degrade due to their age, the proposal also encompasses some restoration work prior to their digitization. The proposed project would be funded by CTC’s Teacher Credential Fund, which consists of revenue from fees that teachers pay to have CTC process their credential applications. The administration indicates the record digitization is justified because: (1) it would allow for all records to be stored in one database (rather than on microfiche, notecards, and a digital database); and (2) it would free up physical space that these records occupy within CTC’s office.
CTC Rarely Accesses Credential Records Issued Before 1989, Likely to Access Even Less Moving Forward. According to CTC, over the past two years, staff received a total of 780 requests for credential records issued prior to 1989—roughly one request per day. While this number is already quite small, the number of requests is likely to decrease in the future. This is because the newest of the records stored physically already are 30 years old. Many of these records are for teachers who have retired or no longer work in the teaching profession. As more and more of these teachers retire, the need to access these records will diminish.
Proposal Very Costly on a Per-Record Basis. Even if CTC were to receive the same number of record requests per year as it did in 2016 and 2017 for the next 20 years, it would only receive 7,800 requests by 2038. Given the $1.5 million cost of the proposal, this equates to roughly $200 per record accessed over this time frame. This is substantially more costly than CTC’s current manual method of record retrieval, which we estimate costs roughly $20 per record accessed.
Reject the Governor’s Proposal to Digitize Records. Given how infrequently CTC accesses records issued before 1989 and how costly the records will be to digitize, we do not believe that the benefits of this proposal outweigh its costs. To the extent that CTC requires access to records of credentials issued prior to 1989, it either can continue to store the records within its existing facility or use an offsite storage facility. Storing the records in the existing facility would have no new cost but may come at some inconvenience to staff working in the vicinity of the storage space. Assuming about the same number of requests continued to be made, we estimate that storing the records in an offsite storage facility and accessing them on an as-needed basis would cost between $18,000 and $20,000 per year. Were CTC to retain these records for another 20 years (when the youngest teachers will be in their 70s), the total cost over the period would be about $400,000—less than one-third of the cost of the Governor’s proposal. Even were CTC to retain the records for 40 more years (when the youngest teachers will be in their 90s), the total cost over the period would be only about half that of the Governor’s proposal. (Moreover, the Governor likely understates the cost of his proposal, as he does not account for the ongoing data storage and access costs as we do in our estimate.) As time progresses and teachers issued credentials prior to 1989 retire, the state may wish to destroy these records.