A report finding fewer than 10% of Tucson students transferred
into regular classes last year has some calling for reforms.
MARISA SAMUELSON Citizen Staff Writer
Less than 10 percent of Tucson students in bilingual education
programs learned enough English last year to enter regular
That fact and others in a state Department of Education report
released yesterday have some officials calling for reform.
“The longer a student is in an English-acquisition program, the
longer he is not in a full-academic program,” said Patricia Likens, a
spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Education.
“They lose the academics that their peers are getting,” she said.
Local educators agree the system needs to be strengthened, but
they claim the state report does not give a true picture.
“They don’t have longitudinal data. They only have a snapshot from
one year,” said Leonard Basurto, TUSD director of bilingual education
and Mexican-American studies.
In TUSD, 523 of 9,165 students – or 5.7 percent – in English-
acquisition programs were deemed proficient to transfer to mainstream
classes, the report states.
The state Department of Education is required to track the
progress of students with limited English skills.
Basurto said the state’s data are not updated to include another
193 TUSD students who were also “reclassified” last year.
He said that the report also does not account for students moving
between schools or districts, nor for a lack of funding as the number
of limited-English students in TUSD continues to increase.
TUSD has the largest number of limited-English-proficient students
statewide. Nearly 3 out of 10 TUSD students are considered limited-
English-proficient, according to the report.
Students in English-acquisition programs
Percentage of students English-acquisition programs who were
deemed proficient to transfer to mainstream classes. Programs include
bilingual education, English as a Second Language and individualized
curriculums. Figures are for 1998-99 school year.
Flowing Wells 27.1%
Altar Valley 6.6%
Cat. Foothills 2.6%
Source: “English Acquisition Services: a Summary of Bilingual and
English as a Second Language Programs,” School Year 1998-99 Report,
Arizona Department of Education
Legislators, state, local officials say bilingual ed needs more
MARISA SAMUELSON Citizen Staff Writer
Bilingual education is being debated in terms of the universal
language – money.
Opponents say too many taxpayers’ dollars are being wasted on a
Supporters say not enough is being invested in bilingual
education, prompting the poor results.
State Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, D-Phoenix, said it is “grossly unfair”
to expect school districts to handle the high volume of bilingual
students without additional funding.
For more than two years, Lopez has fought for legislation to
increase the per-student budget for bilingual education to $621 a
His most recent bill, which would have quadrupled the state’s
current $18 million funding of bilingual education, was rejected last
week by the Senate Education Committee.
Lopez, however, believes lawmakers will be forced to appropriate
more money to the programs, as stipulated in a recent federal court
Two weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Alfredo C. Marquez ruled that
state funding of bilingual education programs – about $150 per
student – was “arbitrary and capricious.”
Lisa Graham Keegan, state superintendent of public instruction,
agrees that bilingual programs should receive more funding.
“I think we have to invest in these programs,” Keegan said in an
interview after the court ruling.
Patricia Likens, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of
Education, said the department must first determine how school
districts are using their money.
“It’s important to see how that money is being spent right now,”
Likens pointed out that Tucson Unified School District last year
reported spending federal grants – such as those intended for
vocational education and homeless teens – on bilingual education.
In 1997-98, TUSD reported bilingual students benefited from $1.1
million of a $1.5 million federal grant intended for vocational
A year later, the district reported spending $169,321 of the
vocational education grant.
Leonard Basurto, TUSD director of bilingual education and Mexican-
American studies, denied any wrongdoing.
“The information provided to the ADE tells them that LEP (limited-
English-proficient), students in addition to receiving bilingual
education, also receive these other programs,” he said.
Students in bilingual education programs “qualify for the other
programs,” he added.
Basurto said certain federal grant figures submitted to the state
were lower last year because TUSD changed its counting method.
“The previous year, the program managers of all the different
budget sources, in some cases, did not bother to take an accurate
count of how many of their students were LEP and instead just
reported their entire budget,” he explained.
“Because of the confusion, for this report, every program manager
was asked to do a very accurate tally as to how many LEPs were
actually in their programs and then report that dollar amount.”
Meanwhile, a Tucson group continues its efforts to place an
initiative on the November ballot that essentially would dismantle
bilingual programs statewide.
BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS AT A GLANCE
Only 5.5 percent, or 7,312, of 132,806 limited-English-proficient
(LEP) students were “reclassified,” or deemed proficient to transfer
into mainstream classes, last year, according to a report by the
Arizona Department of Education. In 1997-98, 4 percent of students
Of those students, only 54,320 students were assessed and 13.5
percent were reclassified. To be reclassified, students must meet
five criteria: oral proficiency, reading, writing, parent opinion and
Only 4,753 teachers instructing LEP students hold an English as a
Second Language or bilingual endorsement. Another 3,634 teachers lack
the required endorsements.
Students classified as LEP and enrolled in bilingual education
programs scored between the 18th and 26th percentiles on last year’s
Stanford 9 reading test scores – which is lower than the state’s mean
percentile of 49 percent.
Arizona school districts used more than $211 million in state and
federal funding last year for bilingual programs.
Nearly 3 out of 10 Arizona students (729,244) come from homes
whose primary language is not English.