Posted on August 26, 2004

Bilingual Districts Need More Funding

Gary Scharrer, El Paso Times, Aug. 24

AUSTIN — Property-poor school districts with large numbers of English-deficient students — such as those in El Paso — have little chance to consistently reach the state’s highest accountability rating, an expert witness testified Monday in the school finance trial.

No Texas school district with an “exemplary” ranking for all six years of the state’s accountability system has had any bilingual students, school finance consultant and retired state legislator Paul Colbert testified.

Of the 62 school districts that have reached “exemplary” status during each of the past three years, 58 have not had any bilingual students, he said, while two have reported just a single bilingual student.

“You either have to assume that nobody in the state cares about bilingual students, or you have to assume, much more correctly I think, that the districts (with bilingual students) don’t have the resources to be able to provide levels of education . . . for consistent exemplary status,” Colbert testified.

Colbert is a consultant for the El Paso school district.

Clint Superintendent Donna Smith will be the first educator from a property-poor district to testify when the trial resumes today.

About 45 percent of Clint district students have limited English proficiency. Nearly one third of the students in El Paso’s largest school district are considered English deficient.

Studies show that it costs more than 40 percent more to educate a low-income student or one with limited English proficiency, Colbert said. But state lawmakers have never appropriated enough money to cover the difference. School districts get only a 10 percent adjustment for bilingual students and 20 percent more for low-income children.

“Money matters,” Colbert told state Judge John Dietz, who is presiding over the trial, now in its third week. “I have been astounded at the degree to which money matters and the degree that we have failed to provide significant enough resources to really close the gaps and get students up to proper levels of performance.”

Lawyers for the state defend the current school funding system, which is designed for 55 percent of students to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test.

Jeff Rose, the state’s lead assistant attorney general in the school finance case, dismissed Colbert’s testimony as “a broad overgeneralization.”

“Certainly, there are many, many programs across the state with large numbers of bilingual and limited English proficiency kids who excel in the system,” Rose said during a recess.

More than 300 school districts joined in the new suit, which contends the state is not adequately funding public education.