School officials question English-learner cost guess
March 17, 2008
school officials are aghast at the state education chief's estimate of the cost
students to learn English.
Next school year, Arizona schools are required to add four-hour English lessons
daily to help students learn English faster. An estimated 140,000 students need
English instruction statewide.
Many Phoenix districts have large populations of English-language learners and
last week found themselves thrown into the highly politicized debate by
criticizing estimates by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne.
told Arizona lawmakers it would take $40 million to properly
fund the language programs at the schools. Horne issued his estimates a week
before a district court judge gave the state Legislature until April 15 to
properly pay for ELL programs or face fines of $2 million a day.
Horne places that cost at a fraction of the amount put together by the Arizona
School Administrators at $304 million. Horne explained he arrived at the $40
million after he weeded out extra costs and deleted textbooks and
classroom-space expenses because they are not allowed under the formula created
to guide spending on ELL instruction.
Much of the $40 million covers the hiring of 1,500 extra teachers, he said.
Chris Thomas, president of the Madison School District governing school board,
is among those frustrated by Horne's estimates.
"I don't think anybody with any credibility believes that the $40 million figure
is right," Thomas said.
Madison School District has identified 657 students as English learners. The
district estimates its ELL program will cost $2 million, which would include
Those costs were arrived at as a result of the Arizona English Language Learner
Task Force, which created a curriculum called English Language Development
models. The task force asked each district to submit a budget to the state about
the cost of using the models. Several districts retooled their expenses to align
their cost with the state models.
The president of the Arizona School Boards Association also decried Horne's cost
Suzanne Schweiger-Nitchals, also a member of the Creighton Elementary School
District governing board, said schools will begin to siphon off other programs
to fund the models at $40 million, adding schools
budgets are shrinking.
Republic reporter Mary Jo Pitzl contributed to this article.