Schools chief: Slash English-learner funds
Arizona Republic
Feb. 13, 2009

by Emily Gersema -

The state schools chief has recommended that the Legislature slash more than $30 million in funding to teach English to students who aren't fluent, a move that critics warned would further cripple schools that have been forced to shrink their budgets.
In his annual State of Education speech at the Capitol on Thursday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said $8.8 million for language instruction is adequate for the upcoming budget year. He added that so far, he believes the state's new standards to help students become fluent in English are succeeding.
And Horne said students in Grades 3 and 8 should have to pass the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards test before moving up a level. He also wants to expand AIMS to test students on history, which he acknowledged would require more funding.
New standards in effect this year require students to spend four hours a day in English-language instruction until they pass the state fluency exam. He said that under this new instruction model, several districts have doubled the rate of children reaching fluency.
An estimated 140,000 students in Arizona aren't fluent in English.
"In the next two years, you will see a dramatic increase in the percentage of students becoming proficient in English quickly, and therefore having the capacity to excel academically," Horne said.
The state has been tangling with English-learner advocates in court for more than a decade over the cost of helping students become fluent.
Schools were given $40 million in state money for English-language instruction this year even though they said they needed about $275 million to hire new staff and buy materials to comply with the new standards.
To cut the support even further is "absurd," said Tim Hogan, an attorney who has been challenging Arizona's English-language-learner funding in the class-action lawsuit Flores vs. Arizona.
"The system is rigged to push this number down to zero," said Hogan, director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest.
Hogan said there was never any money set aside for the schools to buy materials or pay for other aides for English learners. And education experts predict that the immersion program will delay graduation for some high-school students and likely drive many of them to drop out.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear the case on funding for Arizona's English-language-learner programs in April, with a decision due in June.
In other moves, Horne announced the way schools determine a child isn't fluent in English will change. That move could decrease the number of kids who must successfully complete the language-immersion program and pass the fluency exam.
Horne admitted in an interview his suggestions for AIMS would be unpopular with some of his critics, and that helping third- and eighth-grade students who've failed AIMS to pass would require slightly more spending on remediation programs.
Even so, "we need to do better academically. . . . You can improve academics without spending a lot of money," Horne said.
John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, said Horne's timing for decreased English-language funding and increased testing is rotten because the proposals would increase costs for schools.