Lawmakers play favorites with schools
Arizona Republic
Mar. 24, 2006

The gifted children sail through, with so much ease it's almost tedious. The English-language-learners face obstacles that never seem to ease up from one year to the next.

Not only in the classroom. But also in the Arizona Legislature.

Lawmakers have struggled for the past six years to satisfy a court order to get more money to English-learners. Even this year, it took the threat of millions in daily fines to get a modicum of extra funding to pass.
Yet, during this same session, lawmakers have overwhelmingly voted to give more money to gifted students. It's a problem that was brought to lawmakers'
attention only this year, yet it will be solved in the next few weeks, much to those students' and parents' satisfaction.

The proposed bill, which sailed through the House and has already passed some Senate committees, would increase spending on gifted programs by 49 percent.

The Republican proposal for English-learners, meanwhile, would increase spending by 21 percent.

It's not that Arizona legislators mind spending more money on education. It just depends on whose education we're talking about.

With English-learners, Republican lawmakers have dragged their feet. Each session seemed to bring a different excuse not to spend money. There was a need to study how much should be spent. There was another need to figure out how much is already being spent. Dollars have been tied to private-school tax credits and have come with a cap on how long students can be in the programs. And there's always talk of accountability.

No such problem for the gifted program increase. No arguing over methodology or how the money would be used. No tough questions or argument at all, actually.

The minutes from a House hearing where the bill was heard show that supporters came from Scottsdale and Paradise Valley. Students named Grady, Madison and Logan told lawmakers they need more challenging classes to keep their interest in school.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, testified that gifted children drop out of school because they get bored. He told me the same during a phone interview.

"I've talked to several kids," he said. "(They say) 'I was always in trouble. I've read all the books in the library, and then what was I supposed to do?' "

Maybe go to Barnes & Noble?

Anderson said he learned of gifted students' problems from a woman in Mesa who runs a magnet program for such children. He toured it and got a quick education on gifted programs.

Once Anderson was brought up to speed, he drafted a bill and made those experts available to lawmakers. And the lawmakers listened. That, Anderson said, is why his bill is sailing through.

That same strategy, unfortunately, was not used for English-language-learners.

Anderson said he has toured successful programs that teach English, but that those educators and experts were not brought before Republican leadership when it came time to draft a bill. "We've made it so complicated, and it shouldn't be," Anderson said.

Because for Republican leaders, it's no longer about education but about posturing. It's not wanting children who don't speak English and who may not be in the country legally to become the recipients of handouts. Or, if you will, become gifted.

Reach Ruelas at or (602) 444-8473.