Students success depends on extra cash
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 28, 2006

Pat Kossan

In 2003, Martha Nava arrived at Glendale High School speaking only Spanish.

She had spent two years at a nearby middle school but says teachers there let her slide.

"If we didn't understand our homework in English, we could do it in Spanish," said Martha, 17, giggling.

Martha laughs now, but she felt only pain when she tested as a beginner English-learner in high school.

The school pushed her to spend four hours every day of her freshman year learning to speak, write and read English. It pushed her into advanced math and tutoring. It prodded her into clubs and sports, past the AIMS test and into the National Honor Society.

The cost of Martha's advancement to the school: an extra $3,400. For other, more challenged students, district officials peg the cost at $4,010 a year, which is $3,656 more than the state provides.

Six years ago, a federal judge ordered the state to provide more money to help schools teach Arizona's 154,000 English-language learners but didn't set an amount.

In December, the court began to fine the state for not moving quickly enough and in April rejected another proposal because it still didn't provide enough money. The state filed an appeal, which is expected to be heard in July.

Some districts, such as Glendale Union High School District, say they already know how much is needed because they already get the money. In the early 1980s, the district settled two federal civil rights complaints over English-learner programs by agreeing to levy an extra property tax. The tax enabled it to develop a program that state officials say is among the most effective in the state.

Glendale officials say the main ingredients for making an English-learner program work are well-trained teachers, high expectations and money well spent. Its extra money, which is wrapped into the district's operating budget, pays for services and smaller classes that help language learners and all district students. If the extra money were to stop, the district would lose 22 teachers, 39 aides and class sizes would jump.

"Other school districts cannot duplicate this story without an adequate funding base," said Gene Dudo, district finance administrator.

In Martha's case, the money has placed her on the path to a high school diploma next year. She plans to go to college and then to law school.

Getting to this point wasn't easy for Martha or her teachers. And it wasn't cheap.