Horne Start immersion classes without delay
By Howard Fischer
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/education/241574
PHOENIX — Arizona schools should not be allowed to avoid enrolling all their English learners in special immersion courses in the coming year while the adequacy of funding is debated, state School Superintendent Tom Horne said Thursday.
Horne, in legal papers filed in federal court, said schools are able to implement a new state requirement for four hours a day of intense instruction for students who come to school speaking another language.
He urged U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins to reject the request made earlier this month by Tim Hogan, the attorney for plaintiffs in the long-running lawsuit, to bar enforcement of the new law this coming school year.
Horne said Hogan presented "no evidence" of any harm to anyone if students get more instruction in English. In fact, Horne said, the reverse is true.
"Most districts are giving students direct instruction in English for less than an hour a day," he said. "No wonder they are not learning."
Horne said delaying the law would be "a sanction against the students" the law is designed to help, not a punishment for the lawmakers who approved the plan.
Hogan asked for the delay, arguing the $40.6 million lawmakers appropriated for schools to implement the new program is nowhere enough to do the job.
He pointed out some of the largest school districts with the highest number of English- language learners will get little additional cash, if any, because because the state Department of Education deducted some money the districts already spend in calculating how much new cash they need.
For example, Tucson Unified School District sought an extra $40 million to provide mandated services to its more than 7,000 affected students.
Horne first reduced that to $6 million because of other state aid the district already was spending.
And once Horne factored in what the district was spending on desegregation, he concluded it should get no additional funds at all.
The Mesa school system had its nearly $7.3 million request pared to less than $1.9 million.
Overall, $272 million in requests was cut to $40.6 million funding.
Horne's arguments were backed in a separate legal filing Thursday by the attorney for House Speaker Jim Weiers and Senate President Tim Bee.
David Cantelme said no student in Arizona has yet received the kind of instruction mandated by the Legislature.
He said Hogan and his clients are unwilling to try the new plan simply because they don't like the way it is funded, and Hogan's assumption that students will suffer is "premature."
Cantelme also urged Collins to reject Hogan's contention the state is required to fully fund not only the additional four hours a day of English instruction but the other two hours a day of education for the approximately 138,000 affected students.
He said the state already provides basic state aid to each school on a per-student basis for regular education, regardless of each youngster's language proficiency status.
Federal law requires the state to ensure all students have an opportunity to learn English.
A different federal judge found the state was violating the law eight years ago, and lawmakers have been jousting with the court and the plaintiffs in the suit ever since over funding.