PHOENIX—Faced with a court order to bolster programs for English-learning students, state lawmakers remain at odds over whether to start a grants program along with an overall funding increase.
“We’re kind of stuck in neutral,” said Sen. Pete Rios, D-Hayden, following a House and Senate working group meeting Thursday.
That left the group’s members deciding to begin talks with other lawmakers as well as state Superintendent Jaime Molera and the lawyer for Nogales parents whose lawsuit produced the court order in hope of reaching some kind of agreement.
While the working group has been meeting for several months, a House-organized committee met for the first time in early July to begin working on the same issue. Molera and parents’ attorney Tim Hogan already have met with the new committee.
“We’re all going to have to sit in the same room,” said House Majority Leader Carolyn Allen, a Scottsdale Republican who helped organize the working group.
U.S. District Judge Alfredo Marquez in June ordered the state to revamp its funding for instruction for English-learning students by Jan. 31, or earlier if the Legislature holds a special session before then.
Marquez ruled that the state is violating federal laws guaranteeing equal opportunities to education because current funding “bears no relation to the actual amount needed.”
Some lawmakers want to satisfy Marquez’ ruling by significantly increasing the state’s current annual funding of $150 per student – an amount set in 1991 and only a third of what the state said then was needed.
A state-commissioned cost study recently said per-student costs of five model programs range from $192 to $3,067, while an earlier legislative study said approximately $1,500 per student is needed.
Some lawmakers support limiting the increase in the per-student funding because districts use different programs with varying costs. Extra funding could be given on an as-needed basis, they suggest.
Otherwise, “then we’ll actually be over funding what’s needed for language-acquisition programs,” said Senate Education Chairman Ken Bennett, R-Prescott.
Rios argued for a flat increase in per-student funding. A grant program would be an administrative nightmare for the state to keep track of districts’ changing programs, he said.
While Molera has met with legislators, he has made it clear since taking office in May that he will develop a plan of his own. “We’re going to make our contribution,” Molera spokesman Tom Collins said.
On the Net:
Arizona Legislature: www.azleg.state.az.us
Department of Education: www.ade.state.az.us