Cites budget concerns, other factors for canceling high school requirement
By Rhonda Bodfield
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/271171
High school students in the Tucson Unified School District no longer will have to take two credits of a foreign language to earn a diploma.
The TUSD Governing Board overturned the requirement that it imposed on incoming freshmen in the last school year, now citing the possibility of tough financial times, the difficulty of finding certified language teachers and the pressure to comply with new state requirements for students to take additional math, science and economics course work in coming years.
There is no state graduation requirement for a foreign language, but college admission in Arizona requires at least two credits of a language.
Chief TUSD academic officer Ross Sheard said that although the district's graduation requirements won't align with university requirements, the courses will remain electives. The board vote does not indicate services will be reduced, he said.
"We want our students to be global citizens and have the skills necessary to be 21st-century students, but what it comes down to is that we don't have the money to pay for it," Sheard said. "We do believe it's good for kids, and that's the frustrating part."
In 2012, state requirements will kick in for students to take a half-credit of economics. Another credit each of math and science will become mandatory in 2013. That's going to take more teachers, Sheard said, but also more money for textbooks and laboratory equipment.
Because the language requirements were still ramping up, only about 55 percent of graduating seniors last year had taken at least two credits of language. To bring that number to 100 percent would have essentially required a doubling of the language staff, costing another $500,000, Sheard estimated.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find teachers of world language who are also fully certified, said Lisa Long, who heads the district's curriculum division.
The district's three Mandarin Chinese teachers are all working under emergency certification, as is the district's Arabic teacher and Russian teacher. The school year opened without a French teacher or a German teacher in at least two schools. Only one Spanish teacher is emergency-certified, but it takes longer to fill those positions than many other teaching positions.
The district also is bracing for a potentially difficult budget year, with the state facing a projected $1.2 billion gap in this year's budget revenues, and with next year looking bleak as well. Since education accounts for about 40 percent of state general-fund spending, schools fear cuts.
Outgoing board members Joel Ireland and Alex Rodriguez both voted against dropping the language requirement.
Rodriguez said it was "folly" to throw out the requirement. "We want to empower our students for a global economy," he said.
Ireland suggested the district could find other ways of saving money that wouldn't affect curriculum requirements.
But board member Judy Burns, who is expected to take over as board president in January when the new board is seated, said the language goal is laudable but can't be sustained without sufficient funding.
"What kind of sacrifices will we have to ask other children to make in order to require that?" Burns said.
TUSD Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen said her newly established budget advisory committee will help prioritize all of the district's "wants" and weigh them against other needs, including the district's significant technology shortcomings, its inability to give employees a pay increase last year, and its split-principal model in some small schools to save on administrative costs.
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● Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 806-7754 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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