Legislature's foot-dragging on
funding education threatens students' futures
The Arizona Republic
April 22, 2005
Arizona has "first-class academic
standards" but ranks near the bottom of our nation in academic funding. Isaac
Elementary School District students, teachers and administrators have risen to
meet these standards. In the last two years, we have moved from six
underperforming to zero underperforming schools. Unfortunately, the Legislature
has not met its own standard. It has underperformed by not supporting all
The court in Flores vs. Arizona ruled the Arizona Legislature failed to fund
academic programs adequately for students who are "English language learners."
These are students who come to school from homes where the primary language is
other than English, such as Vietnamese, Navajo, Croatian, Arabic and Spanish.
In the summer of 2002, the state Legislature hired consultants to identify costs
associated with educating these Arizona students. The consultants concluded that
"an average incremental spending increase of $1,550 per ELL student is needed in
order to provide an adequate education."
Rather than provide adequate funding, the Legislature paid for numerous failed
court appeals. Finally, the court ordered the Legislature to comply fully with
the court's ruling and provide adequate funding. If the Legislature refuses to
comply,the state could face sanctions, including the termination of
approximately $400 million in federal highway funding. Losing highway
construction dollars would be catastrophic for Arizona's growing economy.
Last week, a joint legislative committee meeting was hastily arranged and three
school districts from north Phoenix, Prescott Valley and Nogales were invited to
present their programs. Other urban school districts in attendance, like Isaac,
Alhambra and Osborn, were not invited to offer testimony.
We were prepared to testify on the need for adequate funding for ELL. Adequate
funding would provide additional teachers, thus lowering class sizes so that
instruction can be more individualized. In addition, adequate funding would
provide supplemental instructional resources to assist learning. Yet, on several
occasions, committee members suggested that districts simply should play a
"shell game" and redirect existing funds for other critical instructional areas.
The Legislature is following a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul approach. That's exactly
why Arizona ranks at the bottom of the nation in academic funding. Adequate ELL
funding will pay for itself because successful students will, in return, add
value to Arizona.
It would seem that the Legislature views ELL students as a burden to our
educational system. Are students a burden because they speak a language other
than English? Are students a burden because they understand a culture other than
that of mainstream America? Are students a burden because many overcome great
obstacles in order to get to school every day?
Interestingly, Fortune 500 companies that are competing in a global economy.
They cite the need for employees who are proficient in English and another
language, and employees who understand American culture and cultures from abroad
as well as employees who can overcome obstacles, which means they are resilient.
It is the Legislature that is creating a burden by not adequately funding
instructional programs to meet Arizona's "first-class academic standards" for
all of our students and poorly preparing Arizona to compete in the global
Kent Scribner is superintendent of the Isaac Elementary School District.