By Howard Fischer and Andrea Kelly
PHOENIX - One in seven children born in Arizona is to a mother who speaks little or no English, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Statistics being released today also show that one-fifth of new births are to women who are not U.S. citizens.
Both figures are far above the national average of one in 12 mothers who speak little or no English and one in seven noncitizens.
The Census Bureau also reports the percentages of children born to unmarried women and women living in poverty from 2000 through 2003 are higher in Arizona than in the rest of the country.
Today's report comes on the heels of a study done by the Migration Policy and Urban institutes showing the number of children born to immigrants in Arizona more than doubled from 1990 to 2000, and that the number of public-school students classified as having limited English proficiency was up 80 percent.
Having more students entering schools from homes where a parent isn't proficient in English has both financial and educational implications, several state officials said. County officials note the trend will also affect public health-care needs.
State Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, who chairs the House Committee on K-12 Education, said he worries that the trend will harm education for others.
"Kids who don't speak English are kind of dragging everybody else down because the teachers have to change the way they teach to kind of spend extra time and effort and energy trying to communicate with folks who don't speak the language," he said. "Everybody knows that."
"We have to deal with it," said Sen. Toni Hellon, R-Tucson, Anderson's counterpart in the Senate, who believes the solution lies in recognizing that education will cost more.
Hellon noted the problem is common to all the Southern border states, not just Arizona.
State school Superintendent Tom Horne said one key is more state-funded full-day kindergarten programs. "At that age, the kids learn languages very quickly," he said.
But Horne said the growth figures underscore the financial battle now playing out in federal court over the state's obligation to educate students who come to school without English proficiency.
DeeAnn Arroyo, with Pima Prevention Partnership, said it's tricky to compare state and national numbers and read too much into them, because the demographics vary in each state.
For those under the poverty line, babies' health is a concern, said Arroyo, manager of the agency's abstinence-until-marriage programs.
For someone who is a noncitizen or is poor, getting health care can be more difficult, she said. "The health implications not only for the mother but for the child just amplify," she said.
Lisa Hulette, epidemiology manager for the Pima County Health Department, said 23 percent of women giving birth in Pima County in 2003 had less than a high school education, and 28 percent were not born in the United States - which doesn't necessarily indicate they don't speak English and aren't citizens - and 43 percent weren't married.
Arroyo noted 79 percent of teen mothers in Arizona delivered their babies through public funding, and the dependency on social services continues after birth.
● Contact reporter Andrea Kelly at 307-0773 or