Costs a concern as Republicans rework bill on English learning
Associated Press
Feb. 27, 2006

Republican leaders rewrote their latest bill to revamp programs for students learning the English language to avoid inadvertently giving Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano too much leeway. Meanwhile, some GOP lawmakers expressed concern that the measure's ultimate price tag remains open-ended.

The work is an attempt to satisfy a federal judge whose daily fines against the state have risen to $1 million.

A House-Senate conference committee on Monday proposed changing a bill that was approved Thursday by the Senate but then put on hold when supporters belatedly realized that Napolitano could use her line-item veto authority to increase funding for English Language Learning programs.

The bill would increase per-student supplemental funding for ELL programs to $432 from $355. But it would also allow additional dollars depending on the costs for schools to implement new state-approved instruction models, with subtractions or partial subtractions for certain types of funding from federal education programs, dollars received in lieu of property taxes and local tax dollars levied for desegregation programs.

It also would impose a two-year limit on funding for individual children.

Napolitano wants to increase the minimum per-student funding to $667, and one change endorsed by the conference committee was intended to remove the possibility that she could add spending by using her line-item veto.

Instead of replacing existing per-student funding with a different but larger stream of dollars, the change would keep the existing funding formula and add dollars to it.

Otherwise, Republicans acknowledged, Napolitano could have vetoed the original version's repeal of the existing funding and left intact the new replacement funding intended to replace it. That would have the effect of roughly doubling the funding.

Meanwhile, several Republicans expressed concern that the models' costs aren't yet known, and Republican Rep. John Allen of Scottsdale said it could be on a par with the 2000 expansion of subsidies for alternative-fuel vehicles.

That program had a projected cost of $650 million, instead of the envisioned $5 million to $10 million. Lawmakers scaled back the program but costs still reached $125 million.

"I do have concern that we keep making the same mistakes and then blaming someone else for it," Allen said.

House Majority Whip Gary Pierce, R-Mesa, acknowledged that eventual costs won't be known until the models are approved and implemented.

But he said the state has no choice because the federal court has ruled that the state can't impose "arbitrary and capricious" funding formulas.

The Republicans' plan would provide $80 million in per-student aid, up from $66 million currently.

The amount of daily fines being imposed by U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins in Tucson doubled on Friday to $1 million, and reached an accumulated total of $19 million on Monday. The daily fines will increase to $1.5 million daily later this month and $2 million at the end of the legislative session if the issue remains unresolved.

The fines began Jan. 25 when the state missed a deadline set by Collins.

Another judge ruled in 2000 that the state's ELL programs don't comply with a federal law requiring equal opportunities in education because of inadequate funding that has produced shortfalls in such areas as teacher training, instructional material and class sizes.

Napolitano has vetoed three bills passed by the Republican-led Legislature, one last May and two in January.


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