Order On Teaching English To Nonspeakers Will Be Costly

Howard Fischer, Arizona Daily Star, Aug. 6

PHOENIX—Arizona taxpayers will have to shell out an extra $200 million or more a year to comply with a federal judge’s order to adequately fund instruction for students to learn English, a new study says.

The study—prepared at the judge’s direction—says the additional $355 per student the state provides for teaching students with limited English proficiency is insufficient.

The actual cost is no less than $703 for students with some language skills to as much as $2,495 for those with the greatest need, according to the study, released Thursday. Those figures are above and beyond the approximately $4,000 in basic per-student state aid to schools.

Legislative staffers estimate that 80 percent of the 150,000 students with little or no English skills are in the more expensive high-need category.

It now is up to state lawmakers to come up with the cash.

Refusal is not really an option: If the Legislature does not come up with additional cash, attorney Tim Hogan said he will ask U.S. District Judge Alfredo Marquez of Tucson to hold the state in contempt. And the sanction Hogan would seek is to have the judge cut off the more than $400 million Arizona gets each year in federal highway funds.

Rep. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, said it would be wrong of her colleagues to look at this solely as an expense rather than an investment. “English learners comprise nearly 20 percent of the entire student population, and we cannot afford to ignore their educational needs,” she said.

Sen. Peter Rios, D-Dudleyville, said the additional funds should help reduce the state’s high dropout rate.

Parents of students in the Nogales Unified School District filed suit 12 years ago charging that the state was not complying with federal laws requiring schools to offer adequate English-language instruction.

Marquez ruled in 2000 that the $150 in additional state aid being provided for these students was “arbitrary and capricious,” with no bearing on actual cost. Lawmakers subsequently voted to increase that, with the current figure standing at $355. But Marquez found in 2002 that that too was flawed because it was not based on any actual data of the real cost.

The judge ordered the Legislature to come up with a study.

Hogan, who represents the parents, said the judge’s order gives state lawmakers through the end of next year’s legislative session to provide the funds.

Lopez said it would be hard for legislators to dispute the results of the study since they were the ones who contracted with the National Conference of State Legislatures to perform it.

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