State schools chief Tom Horne is cutting by three-quarters the funds paid to schools to help students learn English.
Horne said Wednesday he believes the schools can meet their legal requirements with just $8.8 million in extra financing from the state next school year. That compares with $40.6 million provided this school year.
Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, said most of the savings come from his staff working with schools to show them how they can reorganize their schedules to teach as many students with fewer new teachers than previously thought. At the same time, Horne said, a higher percentage of students are becoming proficient in English than before, reducing the need for additional teachers.
Tim Hogan, the attorney for parents who sued the state over inadequate funding, agreed with the second half of Horne's statement.
But Hogan said he believes Horne is saving money by altering the way the Department of Education determines how many teachers are necessary, and doing it in a way that leaves the financial burden on the schools. Horne, however, said that is not the case.
If Horne cuts the funding, that will add fuel to the legal fight that has been ongoing since 1992. That's when the lawsuit was first filed charging that Arizona was not meeting the legal requirement that all students have equal education opportunities.
Two federal judges have agreed and ordered the state to do more. The most recent ruling resulted in lawmakers approving a system of models for how to teach English to students who come to school speaking another language, and agreeing to provide the necessary cash.
Schools submitted requests for an extra $275 million, saying that is what they need to hire additional teachers, purchase materials and, in some cases, fund additional classrooms. Horne pared that to $40.6 million.
That resulted in additional litigation, with U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins hearing arguments in November over the legality of that move. He has yet to rule.
At the same time, though, Horne and the Legislature are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to conclude that Arizona has done enough to help students learn English and should not be required to do anything more.
Horne acknowledged that if the state wins that case, it could absolve the need to provide local schools with any additional funds at all. He said, though, he would urge lawmakers to continue to fund extra teachers as needed.