TUCSON (AP) — Officials in some school districts are concerned about a state mandate going into effect next school year that will require all public schools to teach four hours of English a day to students who aren't proficient in the language.
The officials are wondering where they're going to find the money, space and teachers to support the program.
While state law established a fund for the program, school districts and charter schools are required to first use federal and desegregation funds for the new state mandate. That's problematic, said Patti Lopez, deputy superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District.
"We don't believe we'll get any of the funds," she said. "They want us to use Title 1 and desegregation funds before we get funding, but we've received legal advice that we can't use those monies. We're not eligible, which will result in budgetary needs for the program."
School staff sizes will depend on the number of English-language learners and student language proficiency. The Tucson Unified School District, Tucson's largest district, has an estimated 8,000 English-language learners.
"A lot of our schools don't have the space, which will cause problems," Lopez said. "I don't want to see students on a stage in an auditorium or cafeteria for four hours a day."
Steve Courter, president of the Tucson Education Association, which represents TUSD teachers, said the mandates likely will affect teacher morale as well.
"I think there will be many teachers that see this as a flawed approach to teaching English," he said.
Courter said there is a lack of research to support separating students as the best approach to teaching English.
The concerns within Tucson likely will be felt all over the state, he added.
The Legislature voted for the mandate in 2006, with support from Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, as a response to a 1992 lawsuit dealing with funding for English instruction. There are approximately 135,000 students classified as English-language learners in Arizona.
But officials have disagreed about how to fund the program, and the courtroom fight has gone from federal court in Tucson to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com