Districts expect extra $136 per English-learner
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 18, 2006


Anne Ryman

A $21 million court fine means that English-language learners are likely to get more after-school tutoring and summer programs and that teachers will get more training to help them succeed.

School districts and charters expect to get a one-time allocation of about $136 per English-learner on top of the $358 they now receive annually.

That could mean an extra $108,800 to Tolleson Elementary School District, for example.

"It's welcome news," said Joan McDonald, assistant superintendent for educational services for the West Valley district.

About 800 of the district's 2,700 students are English-learners, which means they qualify for extra help and state funding to help them learn English.

McDonald especially likes the provision that allows the money to roll over to the next school year if it's not all spent this year. Otherwise, she said it would be unfair to give schools a chunk of money so late in the school year and expect them to spend it.

On Friday, a federal judge told the state to distribute $21 million in fines that were imposed when the state missed a court deadline to improve programs for English-learners. The fines stem from a federal court case, Flores vs. Arizona, filed in 1992. The Flores family sued Arizona in U.S. District Court, claiming the state failed to provide adequate programs to help students learn English.

Early next month, the judge will decide whether to accept the state's solution to the Flores case, which would increase annual funding to $432 from $358 for every English-learner. The $21 million in fines is to be distributed on a per-student basis. Arizona has about 154,000 English-learners, with the most of them speaking Spanish.

Schools could start receiving the money as early as late March or early April. However, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said his attorney will seek to stop the money from being distributed because he disagrees with a federal judge dictating how the state spends it.

"I believe more passionately than anyone we need to do everything necessary to teach kids English," Horne said. "But I think the decision should be made by the Legislature."

School officials say they will wait for the money before they put additional programs or services in place.

"Given the nature of the way this whole case has unraveled, it wouldn't surprise me if we wouldn't see the money right away," said Guillermo Zamudio, superintendent of the Nogales Unified School District.

Nogales likely will spend the money to buy books and software to help children learn English. It also may spend it on tutoring and training teachers on effective ways to reach English-learners. About half of the district's 6,300 students are English-learners. The extra funding could be worth an estimated $435,200.

Alhambra Elementary School District said it may spend the money on teacher training. The Phoenix district gets funding for 6,763 English-learners, so the extra money would be worth $919,800.

Once the district gets the money, officials will plan how to use it, Superintendent Jim Rice said.

Reach the reporter at anne.ryman@arizonarepublic.com (602) 444-8072.