State must properly fund English classes  
Arizona Daily Star
March 5, 2008


Our view: State superintendent's claim that less money will work sidesteps issues such as school space, time needed to learn
Tucson, Arizona | Published:


Arizona public schools districts and charter schools say it will cost $274.6 million to comply with a state requirement that students who aren't proficient in English receive four hours of English instruction per day, separate from their classmates.
The Arizona Superintendent of Schools, Tom Horne, announced this week that it will cost $40.6 million.
Something doesn't add up.
Horne contends districts inflated predictions of how much it will cost to educate English-language learners, known in education jargon as ELLs, in special classes.
Districts included costs for new textbooks, extra teachers, classroom additions, training and educational materials — expenses Horne says are already covered in school budgets, can be paid for with federal dollars or don't belong.
Schools were asked to outline their anticipated costs of conducting the new classes.
But their responses weren't given much weight, it appears. We're not suggesting the state write blank checks — but the $234 million gap indicates the schools and the state aren't even in the same workbook, let along on the same page. They must work together to help students.
The requirement that schools segregate English learners for four hours per day presents problems.
"One of the reasons the cost is as large as it is, as we see it, is the state is asking us to do something that is virtually impossible," said Sal Gabaldón, a language-acquisition coach with the Tucson Unified School District. "They're asking us to ensure that all of our students become proficient in speaking, listening, reading, writing English in one year."
Research indicates it takes at least three years — and more likely four to five — for students to become proficient in English, Gabaldón said.
Gabaldón said the test Arizona requires schools to use in assessing English language abilities is identifying more students than before as English-learners. Kindergartners, for example, must read and write in the assessment — tasks many children don't know how to do in any language at that age.
While public schools are prohibited from asking about a student's immigration status, Gabaldón said researchers estimate about 60 percent of the English-learners are American citizens or legal residents. But public schools have a federal obligation to educate all students.
Horne argues that while some schools may need a few extra teachers, most schools should be able to juggle what they have and accommodate the new classes.
His argument works well on paper, but falls apart in schools with a large imbalance in the numbers of English-learners to English-speakers. For example, if a school has 80 English-learners and five English-speakers, it must have a separate classroom and teacher for those five students.
TUSD requested $6.5 million to create the special classes and pay for 107 new teachers and staff, plus school materials and professional development, according to a story by Howard Fischer. But Horne allocated zero dollars — zero — to TUSD.
Horne's analysis leaves out an important factor: classroom additions or renovations necessary to hold the classes. He didn't include them because the state education department doesn't pay for construction.
School construction in Arizona is funded by the School Facilities Board, which approves new schools using a formula that factors in a district's empty space and enrollment. But schools that have extra space aren't necessarily those who need it.
Expenses will have to be paid and those dollars will come from existing budgets. The spillover effect from not properly funding the language requirement will hurt all students.