Board OKs English-learner program
Concerned TUSD officials vote under protest
By George B. Sánchez
Tucson, Arizona | Published:http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/related/221821
The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board voted Tuesday under protest to approve state-mandated English instruction classes for students not yet proficient in the language.
Though board members voiced critical concerns of the mandate, they were advised that state funding is dependent on board approval.
The board approved the mandate 4-1, with Adelita Grijalva casting the lone vote against.
State law requires that in the upcoming 2008-09 school year, all students not proficient in English must take four hours a day of English-language classes.
"The idea is, students become proficient in one year," said Steve Holmes, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. There's no research to support the mandate's aim, he said.
There are about 8,000 English-language learners in TUSD, according to district officials.
Beatriz Rendon, TUSD's chief executive officer, estimates the state mandate will cost around $7 million a year to pay for full-time employees alone.
"That's a rough estimate," she said before the meeting Tuesday. "If anything, it'll go up, not down."
Holmes said the true cost is more along the lines of $40 million a year, including training and professional development, stipends, translation, and parental involvement costs, as well as teaching and staff funding.
Upon enrollment in Arizona public schools, parents are asked if their student speaks a primary language other than English at home. If the answer is yes, the student, from kindergartner to high-school senior, is tested for English proficiency.
Under the mandate, expressed in House Bill 2064, if students are not proficient, they will be classified as an English-language learner. The legislation was passed in 2006.
Students should be classed with others at the same language level, but the state model for instruction allows students of different ages and at different language levels to be classed together.
Class models and time requirements have been established, by the Arizona Department of Education, for elementary, middle and high schools. The focus of the four-hour instruction is: pronunciation, the structure and forms of words, syntax, vocabulary and semantics. Students will be tested three times a year to measure progress.
Teachers for the new classes, according to state requirements, must be certified and designated "highly qualified" under the federal No Child Left Behind law, as well as possess one of three endorsements for teaching English-language learners.
The original purpose of House Bill 2064 was to fund statewide English-language instruction, said John Stollar, the Department of Education's associate superintendent for accountability.
Since November, Stollar and members of the Department of Education have been visiting district officials throughout the state, discussing the program and its funding.
Stollar said school districts have from Jan. 24 to Feb. 8 to apply for funds. State education officials will review the requests, he said, and submit it to the Legislature for funding. For now, Stollar said, there is no budget for the classes.
HB 2064 states school districts and charter schools must use federal and desegregation funds to pay for program, though state funds will offset the rest. TUSD officials, however, say they've been given legal advice that they cannot use desegregation or federal funds for the English-language classes. There also are concerns about class space on school campuses, and finding more English-language teachers.
"Many of the things you've heard from Tucson, we've heard from other school districts," Stollar said.
He noted that they have also received praise for the program for providing state support for English-language programs. Stollar estimate there are about 135,000 English-language learners in Arizona.
The board was critical of the state mandate and asked about the ramifications of rejecting it altogether. "We could send a real message and say we are not going to do it, so sue us," proposed board member Judy Burns.
However, TUSD officials said such an action might jeopardize other funding the district receives from the state.
Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer said the mandate will dramatically affect students' schedules, because more time will be taken up by the requirements and teachers likely will have smaller class sizes in other subjects.
Grijalva said the mandate was a waste of resources.
● Contact reporter George B. Sánchez at 573-4195 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.