Schools chief: Slash English-learner funds
Feb. 13, 2009
Emily Gersema -
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
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
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
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
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
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
Education Association, said Horne's timing for decreased
English-language funding and increased testing is rotten because the proposals
would increase costs for schools.