English language learners need funding
The Arizona Daily Star
Jul.10, 2005


The star's view: Gov. Napolitano's funding increase will help fulfill requirements to help students learn English in a year.

A plan by Gov. Janet Napolitano to spend some $200 million a year helping English language learners finally puts Arizona's money where its mouth is. Nobody intended it this way, but the plan may fulfill the wishes of voters who - impatient with the pace of English-language learning - approved Proposition 203 in 2000 and forced students to learn the language in a year.
The measure came with no money attached, though. In the years since then, the state has increased its spending for English language learning from an embarrassing $150 per student to a paltry $355 per student. Whether students are actually carrying out the will of the voters is anybody's guess.
Napolitano would boost that sum to $1,289 per student. Her plan would monitor results and highlight best practices. That's the kind of support that may get the job done, even if it does come at the point of a gun. A federal judge in a 13-year-old lawsuit filed by a family in Nogales ordered Arizona to boost its spending, citing studies that showed how much the job really costs.
Now, the lawsuit didn't go too deeply into the manner of English language instruction. One year, three years, more, became less an issue than providing the resources needed to accomplish the task. Still, Prop. 203 leaves little choice in how those resources will be spread.
You'd think a conservative Legislature, with members who supported the immersion plan, might see the connection here. But it doesn't. Their proposal was to boost that paltry $355 to a miserly $430. They blasted Napolitano's plan. The House speaker, Jim Weiers of Phoenix, said mockingly, "This now becomes Mexico's best school district north of the border."
You'd think the powerful House speaker would have a better command of his facts.
Here are a few. First, an Urban Institute study estimates that three-fourths of English-language learners nationwide are American citizens; Arizona has about 184,000 of them, we learned at hearings on the governor's plan last week.
Second, federal law requires schools to educate any children within their attendance areas, regardless of citizenship. And third, at last week's hearings, one educator said students in her district speak more than 60 different languages - a growing phenomenon in areas that are home to legal refugees from across the world.
Mexico's best school district, indeed.
Weiers and his colleagues are scheduled to meet this week on how to resolve their plan and Napolitano's. The best answer is a negotiated compromise and a one-day special session. Another option is the ugly route, like the one these parties took on spending to rescue Child Protective Services. That session lasted for two months.
This time, following Napolitano's lead will do far more than get us out of hot water with a judge. It will address head-on the shortcomings in Arizona's educational system that leave so many people behind even as the state's growth rate and economy charge ahead.
Education is the key to improving all these scores. Education for everyone, including students like Stacy Armenta, an English-language learner featured on these pages in May. Stacy carried a 4.0 average at Wakefield Middle School and helped her classmates when she finished her own work. Born in California, she was raised in Mexico and now lives in Tucson.
Invest in her as a fellow Arizonan, don't mock her. Then watch Arizona's fortunes take a turn for the better.
- D.J.