Aug 10, 2008
Parker, The Arizona Republic
schools have struggled with how to pay for a new state program teaching
immigrant students English, especially since districts requested around $300
million but received only $40 million.
At Arizona's largest district, with 73,000 students, for example, Mesa Public
Schools administrators received $1.8 million in state money for the new
English-learner program, but they expect to spend about $7 million.
It meant digging to find another $5.2 million out of a slim budget, which
already had to be cut by $13 million. More than 100 district positions were left
unfilled, including associate superintendent and school librarians.
This school year, 140,000 Arizona students not proficient in English will be
given four hours a day of language instruction. That is slightly more than 10
percent of Arizona's 1 million public-school children in about 330 districts and
Arizona is under a court order to improve instruction to children struggling to
The new English-learner program calls for:
* Four hours per day of English instruction in speaking, listening, grammar,
reading and writing.
* English-learner students must be kept out of mainstream classes during those
* Students must be grouped according to four levels of English proficiency.
* Classes will be taught by highly qualified teachers or those certified to
teach English as a second language.
Before the new program, many districts would put English-learner students in
mainstream classrooms for the majority of the school day, while providing about
30 minutes of "pull-out" English instruction.
State-education officials said students could spend six or seven years in the
old program before becoming proficient in English, while the new model means a
much shorter track for learning English: about a year, especially for elementary
Tom Horne ,
state superintendent of public instruction, said: "They'll learn English quickly
and then be able to compete with other (mainstream) kids in academics."
State funds fall short
For months, Arizona administrators have complained about the state's new
Chris Thomas, president of the Madison School District school board, was among
those frustrated by the state's $40 million for the new program, arguing it's
too small and shortchanges some districts that have many English learners, while
giving a windfall to others.
District administrators had originally requested $275 million to $300 million
for the program.
At Chandler Unified School District, officials expect to spend $3 million on the
new program, while receiving $1.6 million from the state.
Officials said they didn't expect class sizes to increase, but that won't be
known until the school year gets under way.
The new program means changing classroom logistics for 3,500 English learners in
the 35,000-student district.
It means hiring about 36 new teachers for English learners.
"This is the biggest change mandated from the state in my memory," said Susan
Eissinger, associate superintendent for instruction. "We believe it's going to
cost more than the allocation (from the state)."
At the Buckeye Union High School District, officials originally requested
$600,000, which included construction money for additional classrooms at Buckeye
Union High, where classrooms already were at capacity.
The district received $40,000. It covers hiring one English-language teacher,
mileage reimbursement for travel between campuses, partial funding to hire
substitute teachers to cover staff training, and computer-software licenses.
Adapting program to kids
The Legislature passed the 2006 law to try to resolve a 1994 lawsuit challenging
Arizona's English-learner programs as violating federal mandates for equal
opportunities in education.
The law called for a nine-member committee called the Arizona English Language
Learners Task Force, which has created the new curriculum, called English
Language Development models.
Districts submitted estimated budgets to the state about the cost of starting
the new program, and some even retooled their expenses to align their cost with
the state model.
"We were rejected several times," Thomas said. "We had to cut down a number of
Chandler Unified officials said the state money would cover hiring new ELL
But Eissinger said the district submitted additional expenses, such as for new
course materials along with more training for current educators. The state did
not cover those costs.
And there were other complications.
Districts sought alternatives to the state's English-learner teaching mandate.
So far, the task force has approved three alternative models, which can be used
by other districts under similar circumstances:
* The Higley Unified School District alternative: If there are fewer than 20
English learners in a three-grade span, such as grades K-2, then educators can
use an individual language plan for those students.
* The Glendale Union High School District alternative: If English learners who
are juniors and seniors pass the state language test at the "intermediate" level
and are on track for graduation, then those students can spend fewer hours per
day in the English-learner program.
* The Phoenix Union High School District alternative: When teaching the reading
portion of the English-learner program, educators can use other academic
material, such as history or social studies.
Chandler educator Tim Brethauer teaches an English-learner summer-school program
at Willis Junior High.
He said the new program should conform to student needs.
"It should be based on the individual and choice," Brethauer said. "One size
does not fit all."
Humberto Rosales, 17, has spent the past two years in the English-learner
program and needed the summer-school credit to graduate his coming year at
Chandler High, when he'll be enrolled in regular English classes.
"A lot depends on the teachers," he said. "I think (the new program) is OK if
they don't speak English at all. It depends on the student."
New English model
The Arizona English Language Learners Task Force, consisting of nine people, has
mandated that all students not proficient in English have four hours of daily
instruction devoted to English. It begins this school year.
State officials contend the four-hour model, or a majority of the school day, is
essential to provide English-language learners with a strong push toward
proficiency. Some districts contend it's an unwieldy mandate that the state is
The Legislature passed the law mandating the change in 2006 in order to resolve
a 1994 lawsuit challenging Arizona's English-learning programs as violating
federal mandates for equal opportunities in education.
To view the task-force meeting agendas and minutes, log on at ade.az.gov/ELLTaskForce.
In 2006, the Legislature mandated a change in the way Arizona districts teach
English to immigrants and formed a nine-member task force to work out the
Sept. 21, 2006: Task-force members' first meeting, and it starts looking into
history of Arizona's English-language learner (ELL) program, including
participation, testing programs and monitoring procedures.
October 2006: Twenty-four school district and charter schools testify,
representing various geographic areas, sizes and programs.
November 2006: Hears testimony from experts in the field and in academia.
January 2007: State Department of Education officials explain how state and
federal laws affect ELL instruction, along with nine other school districts
testifying. Surveys 107 districts with effective programs.
April 2007: Hires a consultant to help process testimony, while officials
conduct phone surveys of over 100 schools. Over the next three months,
consultant holds six meetings dealing with various ELL models.
May 17, 2007: Chino Valley School District curriculum specialists testify about
its four hours of instruction.
Aug. 1-2, 2007: Public hearings held in Tucson and Phoenix on ELL models.
September 2007: State Department of Education starts a series of presentations
around the state to inform districts of their options.
January: Arizona School Administrators put cost of new ELL program at about $300
April: Legislature approves $40 million toward new ELL program.
Section: VALLEY & State
Record Number: pho108714251