Group puts cost increase for ELL law at $300 million
Associated Press
Jan. 23, 2008

A group representing school administrators estimates that implementing a 2006 state law boosting programs for students learning English will cost districts $300 million in additional costs.

Districts are now submitting cost estimates to the state in advance of the law being implemented in the fall. The legislation was a response by the Republican-led Legislature to a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of current funding for English Language Learning programs.

A top official of Arizona School Administrators disclosed the estimate before a Capitol news conference planned Wednesday. School officials also planned to brief lawmakers on the situation and their concerns.

Roger Short, the group's executive director, said the state's 227 districts were surveyed and 65 sent back cost studies.

A statistical analysis of the data indicates that districts' spending of roughly $54 million in the 2006-2007 school year will increase to more than $358 million to comply with the law's instructional requirements.

Short said that'd be an unfunded mandate unless the state provides full funding for additional teachers, classroom supplies and other costs required under the law.

Legislative budget documents show the state now provides approximately $56 million for ELL programs. An additional $14.3 million has been appropriated but would only be spent if the state law receives court approval.

The state now faces projected revenue shortfalls in the current and next fiscal year, and Short acknowledged that the state faces tough budget times.

"The concern is our districts are going to be asked to take this out of their pockets," Short said.

The next step is for the state Department of Education to check the districts' requests for accuracy and compliance with the law. The department would then submit a budget request to the Legislature.

The Legislature and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne are appealing a federal judge's ruling that the 2006 law provides inadequate funding and conflicts in several ways with federal law.

A federal appellate court has not yet ruled on the appeal, leaving the Legislature still facing a March 4 deadline set by the judge for the Legislature to take further action to comply with his order.