English funds vital, groups say
Arizona Daily Star

By Mary Vandeveire


The education of children who come to school unable to speak and write English is an important issue for Tucson, including areas without large numbers of Hispanic immigrants, said teachers at a forum Tuesday in Phoenix.

Any shortfall in the money needed to teach English language learners will be made up by taking away from programs for other students, the educators predicted.

They encouraged teachers and parents to attend a meeting Thursday evening in Tucson on Gov. Janet Napolitano's plan for funding of English-language instruction in public schools.

The plan would serve children who come to school primarily reading, writing and speaking a language other than English.

Napolitano's plan would require the state to provide schools with $1,289 for each of the approximately 145,000 students classified as English-language learners. Republican-led lawmakers offered about $430 per student, a proposal the Democratic governor vetoed.

A study commissioned by legislators said the real cost of educating each English-language learner could be $2,400.

The Governor's Office now is encouraging Arizonans to write to legislators and urge them to come back to the Capitol for a special session to consider her funding plan.

The plan offered by GOP lawmakers provides more accountability, countered Barrett Marson, spokesman for the Republican House leadership. The Legislature would pay for English-language-learner programs based on plans submitted by school districts.

The governor's performance measures are all "after the fact," Marson said. "We seek to have the school districts tell us what they're going to do to teach these children," he said.

The state agreed in 2001 to meet federal court requirements to properly fund, implement and enforce effective programs to teach English as a second language.

Vicki Balentine, superintendent of Amphitheater Public Schools, said districts have waited a long time for a resolution. In general, she supports the governor's efforts to bring some solution to the table.

"Appropriate funding for English-language learners is a very significant issue for school districts," Balentine said.

The inevitable trade-off in school budgeting, if there isn't enough money designated for English-language learners, is one reason the funding is a big deal in Scottsdale, said Karen Beckvar.

"People understand there's a relationship," said Beckvar, a member of the Scottsdale Unified School District governing board and a mother of two boys who went through the district.

All of the money comes out of schools' maintenance and operations budgets, Beckvar said.
"Kids' lives are being affected by what we're not doing. That is our responsibility," said Faith Risolo, an English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa and president of the Mesa Education Association. "If we don't educate these kids, then we've failed them as a community, and that's the community of Arizona."

Dobson High School French and Spanish teacher Susan Arandjelovic said students of all ages and very often from countries other than Mexico, like China, are affected.

"We have high school students who come who are not at all proficient in English," said Arandjelovic, chair of Dobson's world languages department.

Contact reporter Mary Vandeveire at 1-602-271-0623 or mailto:mvandeveire@azstarnet.com> mvandeveire@azstarnet.com.