Legislature's ELL stinginess costly to future
Arizona Republic
May 9, 2008



Legislature's ELL stinginess costly to future

Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ)

Author: East Valley Think Tank

As leaders of a consortium serving more than 250,000 students in the East Valley through our elementary, secondary and postsecondary institutions, we share a commitment to success for all our students.

This commitment is especially compelling for students who enter school unable to read, write and speak English , so-called English language learners .

Since 1992 Arizona has been engaged in a lawsuit in the federal courts regarding the educational services we have failed to provide for these Arizona students, now numbering over 130,000 in our schools.

In 2006, the Legislature moved to end the so-called Flores lawsuit by charging the Education Department and a separate task force to develop new methods for teaching ELL students and inform the Legislature how much money it would take to fund such changes.

The law requires school districts to begin implementing the new ELL model by the beginning of the next school year. Districts such as Mesa, for example, will need to hire more than 100 teachers and equip their classrooms to fulfill the requirements of the new ELL model.

By state statute, ELL students must be taught in their neighborhood school, yet districts' requests for additional funds for space have been denied. Districts need to be doing this hiring and planning now if they are to be ready to educate these students in August.

In a dance that would seem comical if there were not so much at stake for our students, districts and the Department of Education have traded cost estimates back and forth, with districts estimating real costs and the department rejecting their costs because the districts have not first "used" other federal funds to underwrite these programs.

It is this requirement by the department that has been declared illegal by two different federal courts, yet our policymakers hide behind it as they continue to deny the funds needed by educators to implement the model that the policymakers themselves have mandated.

The reality of two federal courts' judgments, seen in light of the state's current fiscal crisis, seems pricey. However, in our minds, the costs to the Arizona economy and society of hundreds of thousands of youngsters having gone through our K-12 system without the resources they need to succeed far outstrips the financial costs of adequately funding the program as the federal law requires.

If the state is to finally remove this albatross from around its collective neck, we need to adequately fund this rigorous new ELL model, and thereby give our schools the resources they need to teach these students.

Resolute action from Arizona is overdue. The time for foot dragging is long past. As P-20 educators, we implore our policymakers to act now, for the good of these students, and for the long-term good of our state.

This statement reflects the collaborative thinking of the members of the East Valley Think Tank, comprised of the top administrators of 19 public educational institutions from elementary and unified school districts to community colleges and universities. It does not reflect the opinion of the governing boards of our school districts, community colleges, or universities. Information: www.evtt.org.

Edition: Final Chaser
Section: San Tan Monthly
Page: ST6
Dateline: AZ
Record Number: pho103543801