Horne: Cost of English instruction is $40.6M
Capitol Media Services
March 4, 2008


Districts don't need the $274.6M they seek, AZ school chief asserts

By Howard Fischer

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/228050

TUSD once relied on Americanization classes, called 1C, for students who did not speak English. Former students have said they were punished for speaking Spanish, and about 60 percent of 1C students in TUSD dropped out of school from 1919 to 1967.

— Star archives 

PHOENIX — Teaching English to students who are not proficient should cost Arizona taxpayers only an extra $40.6 million a year — not the $274.6 million sought by school districts, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said Monday.

Some of the requests by individual districts weren't justified, Horne said. For example, he said several asked for a large number of new teachers to provide English-language instruction, when they could justify only a few.

He also disallowed requests for new textbooks, saying districts already are supposed to be taking care of that expense.

And Horne rejected efforts by some districts for money to build additional classrooms, saying that isn't the responsibility of his agency.

He figured the actual cost of complying with the teaching models approved last year at just shy of $90 million. But Horne said once schools use money they already receive for English learners, as well as other related funds for desegregation costs, the net new cost to the state is just $40.6 million.

It actually could wind up less: If the state ultimately wins its argument that schools should first have to use certain federal grants before receiving additional state aid, the bottom-line cost to Arizona taxpayers would be less than $19.3 million.

So far, though, both a federal trial judge and an appellate court have rejected the idea that districts must use the federal funds first. That leaves only the U.S. Supreme Court.

Horne's numbers, presented in a report to the state Legislature, came as U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins ordered lawyers from the state to show up in his court this coming Monday to explain why they did not meet today's deadline to actually have adequate funding already in place for the nearly 130,800 students classified as "English-language learners."

All Horne's report does is notify lawmakers of the price tag; lawmakers have yet to actually appropriate any cash. A federal judge first found the state's funding formula illegal more than eight years ago.

The attorney for the legislators wants additional time to comply.

Horne's report drew a sharp rebuke from the Arizona School Administrators Association, a group of school district superintendents.

In a prepared response, Roger Short, the organization's executive director, called it a "rigid application of an inflexible budget format." And he said it creates "significant inequities" among districts.

For example, Short said, Mesa Unified School District would be entitled to nearly $1.9 million for its 11,472 students classified as English learners, or about $160 each. By contrast, the Vail School District would receive $531,239 for its 144 ELL students, not counting federal funds, or close to $3,690 apiece.

And some districts will get nothing.

For example, the Tucson Unified School District originally sought $43.1 million but brought that down to $6.5 million. But when Horne deducted what TUSD already receives from the state and other sources, he concluded it needs no new money.

Steve Holmes, TUSD's assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said the district has been told that it would have to use desegregation funds to pay for the state mandate.

The district has been under a federal desegregation order for three decades, and although it is seeking to be released from the order, expects to continue receiving the funds.

"We think we are being asked to do something that's illegal," Holmes said of the state's order.

The $6.5 million would cover 107 new teachers and staffers, $400,000 would go for school materials, and about $40,000 for professional development, he said.

Other Tucson districts also were unhappy. Amphitheater Public Schools requested $2,307,360 but is slated to receive $53,681 from the state. The state says federal funding should push that to $987,332.

Amphi officials believe school districts and not the state should determine what they need or don't need, said Todd Jaeger, associate to the superintendent and legal counsel for the district.

"The whole idea, I thought, was that school districts were solicited for their input, recognizing that they know the kids and they know what the kids need. They know what hasn't been working already. For example, perhaps they know they need specific textbooks for these kids that they don't have or can't afford presently."

Horne said each district's request was scrutinized carefully to ensure that each received what it needed to comply with the law. He said there are legitimate reasons for the kind of disparities districts find unfair.

The teaching models approved by the Department of Education require all ELL students to have at least four hours a day of English immersion, separate from other students.

"If you've got a lot of ELL students, it shouldn't cost you much per student because there are already teachers that are teaching that," Horne said. "It's just a matter of reassigning them."

He used the example of four classes each of 25 students, with half of those 100 students classified as English learners. Horne said all those students could be put into two classes for four hours a day with two of the teachers; the other two teachers would take charge of students who don't need special training.

By contrast, Horne said, a school with just a few English learners might require one or more new teachers for their four hours a day of immersion.

The Vail School District would need to add 15 new teaching positions and pay for costs associated with training, such as travel expenses, Superintendent Calvin Baker said.

The district has only 144 English-language learner students, so the teachers are needed because the ELL students would have to be separated from other students, Baker said.

"We have relatively few ELL students and we have to spread across 13 to 14 schools, so every school has to have new teachers," he said.

Still, some school officials disagree with the new ELL model, including Baker, who largely disagrees with the idea of separating ELL students from other students.

"It's going back to the days of segregation," he said.

● Arizona Daily Star reporters Andrea Rivera, George B. Sánchez and Jamar Younger contributed to this story.