Educators back English proposal
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 1, 2005

Betty Reid
Urban education leaders are rooting for Gov. Janet Napolitano's proposal to acquire funding for students learning English.

The Arizona governor recently unveiled a plan that seeks to satisfy a federal court order by spending up to $185 million more annually to teach students English.

If the proposal is approved by the Legislature this summer at a special session yet to be called by Napolitano, the upcoming school year's distribution of the funds would amount to $13.5 million with increases to $185 million by 2009.

This means that districts like Isaac, Roosevelt and Cartwright, where a large population of English learners attend school, would receive more funding per student. Under the plan, schools would receive an increase of $1,300 per English-learning pupil, up from $355 per child currently.

Arizona schools are educating 160,000 students who speak a foreign language. The vast majority of these students speak Spanish. Some educators believe that students who struggle to learn English are prone to leave the classroom and drop out of school altogether.

The Isaac Elementary District educates 8,900 students, and as many as 5,300 are identified as English learners. Isaac students speak at least 10 foreign languages.

Isaac Superintendent Kent Scribner is delighted about Napolitano's proposal. He believes that lowering teacher-student ratios, giving lessons using academic programs that work, and providing staff development for teachers can help children learn.

State test scores show that urban districts are the most challenged districts, he said.

"The state has failed to provide for teacher training and to provide for smaller class sizes," Scribner said.

The Legislature is under a court order to spend more money on English language learners. Arizona Republican leaders proposed spending $42 million for instruction programs and training for students to fulfill the 1992 lawsuit filed by a Nogales family.

That plan, however, would force districts to apply for grants in order to get the funds, which would not be guaranteed.

Scribner called the Legislature's idea "irresponsible" because it takes away desegregation dollars and would force districts to play a shell game.

The Roosevelt School District identified 4,500 of its 12,000 students as English learners.

If the Legislature approved Napolitano's proposal, or one similar, the district would form a committee charged with looking and finding areas where students need help most.

If Roosevelt had the funds it needed, the district would attempt to lower its 25-1 student-teacher ratio, Superintendent Grace Wright said.

The ideal situation would be to have one teacher for 18 students in the lower grades, which now average about 20 to 25 students per teacher, Wright said.

The district would find "people trained to work with diverse student populations," Wright wrote in a prepared statement. "We would spend it on classroom reduction and staff development for strategies that work for English Language Learners."

The Cartwright School District had 20,000 students during the 2004-05 school year, and about 9,500 were considered English-learning students.