Funding at issue as schools face new standards

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PHOENIX (AP) — Public school officials in Arizona have their eyes on Gov. Jan Brewer and the Legislature, hoping they provide money for districts to pay for implementing new education standards already approved by the state.

Districts, especially rural ones, won't be able to keep up without state help, Peoria Superintendent Denton Santarelli said. "We are moving ahead with no additional support and considerable concern."

The Arizona Republic reported ( ) that a state Department of Education document estimates the total cost of implementing the Common Core Standards at $131 million over two years for training teachers, acquiring curriculum material and establishing regional support centers.

The department is trying to pin down additional costs for technology and infrastructure, the newspaper reported Monday.

Brewer is expected to include money for Common Core Standards in her Jan. 18 budget proposal, but a Brewer aide said it's unlikely the governor will seek the full amount from the Legislature.

"There are many other competing demands on the state's limited resources, principally Medicaid, which is eating up more and more of the state budget," said Rebecca Gau, director of the Governor's Office of Education Innovation.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal says he expects legislators to provide at least some of the money needed.

"It is education's time. People have said that they will make education a commitment in this legislative session," said Huppenthal, a former legislator.

House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said funding the full amount in addition to other needs would be fiscally dangerous.

"We need to take care of a lot more people than K-12. I can't picture swallowing up all the discretionary money we have on just one program. We will have to ration," Kavanagh said.

Brewer's January 2012 budget proposal for the current fiscal year asked lawmakers to restore $200 million in so-called "soft-capital" funding for items from textbooks to school buses.

About half of the money could have been used to address the technology and curriculum needs associated with Common Core, Gau said. However, the proposal failed to make the final budget approved by Brewer and the Legislature.

State lawmakers expect to have a $676 million surplus at the start of the 2014 fiscal-year budget, along with $450 million already set aside in a "rainy-day fund."

However, a temporary three-year sales tax ends in May, and state official estimate the extra money now in the treasury will be needed to plug budget holes in the future.

State funding for education has steadily dropped in recent years.

Arizona's funding for public schools fell from $4.6 billion in fiscal 2008 to an estimated $3.9 billion in fiscal 2013, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

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