Study urges more English funding
 Feb. 19, 2005 
By Howard Fischer

It says $200M more is needed to get job done

PHOENIX - Arizona lawmakers need to spend more than $200 million more than they do now to properly fund programs to teach English to kids who come to school without that as their primary language, a new study concluded.
The report by the National Conference of State Legislatures released Friday said the $355 per student the state now provides covers nowhere near the cost of properly doing the job. That was the same conclusion of a federal judge who ordered the study in the first place.
Instead, the report says spending needs to be boosted by an average of $1,195 for each of the approximately 175,000 students in Arizona schools who have limited English language skills. It also says that extra funding could be twice as much for some students in lower grades who have only limited grasp of English.
Attorney Tim Hogan, who represents parents who sued more than a dozen years ago, said the additional funds would provide smaller classes and better-trained teachers. Hogan said he hopes this study finally persuades lawmakers to act.
"They've been dragging their feet for five years trying to figure out ways to avoid their funding obligation for these kids," he said. "They want these kids to meet impossibly high standards. But they've just refused to give them the resources they need to do it."
A spokesman for Senate Republican leadership, Nick Simonetta, said lawmakers are studying the report. But he said there is no guarantee additional funds will be forthcoming.
In fact, Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said lawmakers may defy the order issued last month by U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins to come up with the cash by the end of this legislative session to properly fund programs to teach English.
Pearce, who heads a House Appropriations Committee, acknowledged the judge could withhold the $400 million a year the state gets in federal highway funds. But Pearce said he doubted Collins would do that.
"And when do you stand up for what's right?" he said. Pearce said Collins has no right to tell lawmakers how much cash is needed to teach English.
That's not true, said Hogan. He said federal law requires states to ensure that all students have adequate instruction in English.
Rep. Peter Rios, D-Hayden, said the study confirms the state has been short-changing its "English-language learners." Rios said the Republicans who control the budget should not balk at getting kids to learn English, "especially now" that Pearce and other Republicans want a constitutional amendment to have English declared the official language of the state.
But the funding problem is not limited to Republicans. The proposed budget submitted by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano does not include funds to comply with the order even though Napolitano knew the court-ordered study was going to be completed. And her budget does not have that much extra cash for contingencies.