English-learner classes required
Funds, teaching staff, space concern TUSD
By George B. Sánchez
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/related/221593
Beginning next school year, all public schools in Arizona will be required to teach four hours of English a day to students who aren't proficient in the language.
But the state mandate concerns officials in some districts, who wonder where they're going going to find the money, space and teachers to support the program.
Tucson's largest school district will discuss the issue tonight at its board meeting.
A presentation, scheduled for 8 p.m., will focus on 2008-'09 state-ordered classes for English-language learners and funding, said Patti Lopez, deputy superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District.
"They will be taken out of the regular classroom and grouped with students of the same proficiency level," she explained.
Students will be assigned based on classification under the state language assessment, Arizona English Language Learner Assessment, or AZELLA. The five classifications are: pre-emergent, emergent, basic, intermediate and proficient. Once students are labeled proficient, they are no longer considered English-language learners.
Lopez estimates there are 8,000 English-language learners in TUSD.
There are concerns about funding, Lopez said, as well as teaching staff and classroom space.
While state law established a fund for the program, school districts and charter schools are required to first use federal and desegregation funds for the new state mandate. That's problematic, Lopez said.
"We don't believe we'll get any of the funds," she explained. "They want us to use Title 1 and desegregation funds before we get funding, but we've received legal advice that we can't use those monies. We're not eligible, which will result in budgetary needs for the program."
School staff sizes will depend on the number of English-language learners and student language proficiency.
"A lot of our schools don't have the space, which will cause problems," Lopez said. "I don't want to see students on a stage in an auditorium or cafeteria for four hours a day."
Steve Courter, president of the Tucson Education Association, which represents TUSD teachers and classified staff, said the mandates likely will affect teacher morale as well.
"I think there will be many teachers that see this as a flawed approach to teaching English," he said.
There is a lack of research to support separating students as the best approach to teaching English, he explained.
The concerns within Tucson likely will be felt all over the state, he added.
"This isn't something that's just happening in Tucson Unified. The Arizona Department of Education mandated this for the entire state."
The Legislature voted for the mandate in 2006, with support from Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, as a response to a 1992 lawsuit about funding for English instruction. There are approximately 135,000 students classified as English-language learners in Arizona.
But officials have disagreed about how to fund the program, and the courtroom fight has gone from federal court in Tucson to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
On Wednesday, the superintendents division of the Arizona School Administrators Association will hold a press conference in Phoenix on the costs the state mandate will create for Arizona school districts.
● Contact reporter George B. Sánchez at 573-4195 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.