Bilingual program at DPS needs more money

Complying with court order will cost district

Denver Public Schools’ bilingual-education program will need more money next year in light of a federal court monitor’s finding that it needs better management and additional resources, a school board member said Monday.

‘There’s no doubt in my mind it will be an agenda item for Thursday’s work session,’ Bennie Milliner said.

The program, called English Language Acquisition, or ELA, had a budget of $ 2.4 million this academic year – its first. That includes teacher training but not teachers’ salaries, which individual schools cover.

How much more money ELA needs, and where it will come from, will be decided in budget negotiations over the next several weeks, Milliner said. The district already projects an $ 8 million budget shortfall.

Ernest House, a CU-Boulder education professor monitoring ELA for the U.S. District Court for Colorado, reported on April 24 that the program – mandated in the settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Hispanic teachers and students – had made ‘substantial progress’ but suffers from poor training, inadequate staffing and a faulty computer system.

‘Without a substantial infusion of additional resources, the program
cannot be successfully implemented in the Denver schools within the next two years,’ he wrote.

That’s the deadline for DPS and the plaintiffs to decide whether ELA has been successful enough in moving Spanish-speaking children into English classes that the court order can be lifted.

Last week, fear of diverting attention from ELA led Milliner, along with board members Sue Edwards and Sharon Macdonald, to unsuccessfully oppose submitting a federal grant proposal that would set up a parallel language program in four pilot schools. A resolution supporting the pilot program passed 4-3.

At the time of the vote, board members had not seen House’s report – the third in a series of regular updates – although it had been filed with the court for 15 days.

District officials say the ELA department had issued its own report April 6 raising many of the same issues, and the board had seen that.

Like ELA, the pilot program’s goal would be to turn Spanish speakers into English speakers. But it is controversial because while ELA lasts only three years, students in the pilot program could take classes in Spanish for up to five years.

ELA serves about 14,000 of DPS’ 70,000 students. It was deemed necessary because before this school year, DPS had no clear policy on when to mainstream students who enter school speaking a language other than English.

Milliner said he is worried that while the pilot program has the advantage of helping the district train more bilingual teachers it will also divert attention away from the court-ordered ELA.

‘With limited resources I think that needs to be our preference and our priority,’ Milliner said.

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