Adult ESL enrollment drops
Arizona Republic
Oct. 22, 2007


Many educators blame Proposition 300's strict ID requirement

Georgann Yara

Tempe resident Rayo Gasca no longer sees many of the familiar faces in her English as a Second Language adult-education classes.

Teacher Tony Trujillo, who teaches an ESL adult-education class for the Tempe Union High School District, lost all of his students in the family-resource course he taught in Laveen.

Vanda Salls, director of adult education for the Tempe Union High School District, said the district has experienced a 20 percent drop in registration this year.

All three believe that the reason is Proposition 300, a law passed last year that requires students to provide proper documentation that they are legal United States residents and denies undocumented immigrants in-state tuition or state-funded education.

Because the Tempe Union courses are free, potential students who cannot provide these records cannot take the classes.

Salls said English classes have been hardest hit. She keeps a contact list of nearly 40 people, first names only, who are willing to pay tuition should the district develop a fee-based program that circumvents the law.

"We have started some exploratory conversations with the district on how to incorporate that," Salls said. "Some students have studied for a number of years and are getting ready to get their GED and could not continue."

She said the law has affected immigrants that have legal documentation but are sometimes less willing to step forward or are intimidated by the scrutiny. Her district follows the law, but Salls said it is difficult to support it from an educator standpoint.

"Part of the district's mission is to reach out and work with the community to make sure it's as strong as it can be," she said. "Prop. 300 has impeded that mission and has presented a challenge."

An Arizona identification card allowed Tempe student Gasca to continue her education. After two years of English, she is enrolled in the district's GED program.

She and her family moved to Arizona from Mexico 13 years ago after her husband lost his job. Part of her reason for going to back to school was to show her two daughters the importance of education.

"You can show your kids that as an adult you still can grow," Gasca said.

She said the immigration laws make her upset. Most of her friends wanted to learn English so they could communicate with their children who have become Americanized and prefer to speak English only, she said.

The ESL classes that Trujillo teaches reflect the United Nations, drawing students from China, Poland, Iran and Mexico. Trujillo said he keeps in touch with students from his disbanded family-resource class.

"They are totally lost. It makes me sad," he said. "There's a lot of potential; they really want to learn."

Virginia Seltenright, who teaches the GED class for the district's Adult Basic Education program, said she now draws 10 to 12 students in her night classes that used to regularly reach the 20-student capacity. She also said Proposition 300 has had an impact.

"I would guess, yes. I see a lot of them trying to get their GED," Seltenright said. "It makes me angry because everyone should have that opportunity."

Mesa resident Anely Villegas came to Arizona nine years ago for a chance at a better life for her family, she said. She is in her second year of ESL and hopes to earn her GED and eventually become a nurse. When registering, she provided an Arizona driver's license as her documentation.

"It is not fair," Villegas said. "In America, they want us to speak only English, but then they do not want us to get help."