Ron Unz, the California millionaire who bankrolled a campaign to limit bilingual education in Arizona, will tell a Senate committee today that the key to helping immigrant students is how money is used to teach them English, not how much is spent.
Unz will testify on Sen. Ken Bennett’s bill that reserves a spot in the state’s budget if Arizona is forced to spend more money on bilingual programs.
“What has caused a huge rise in test scores (in California) has nothing to do with how much money is being spent. It’s how the money is being spent,”
said Unz, who ran an anti-bilingual education campaign in California.
Despite voter approval in November to restrict bilingual education, Arizona remains under a court order to help students overcome language barriers. A federal judge could cut federal funds, shut down schools or slap the state with additional taxes if Arizona doesn’t spend more to teach students who are new to English.
Unz also wants Arizona students who are limited in English tested this spring to develop a baseline before the English-immersion classes start next school year.
Arizona is the second state, behind California, to approve a ballot initiative that requires children not fluent in English to spend an academic year in an intensive immersion program where they would be taught English as rapidly as possible, in addition to other subjects.
Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, a Phoenix Democrat, remains skeptical of Unz’s intentions.
“He’s not an educator, and he’s not from Arizona,” said Lopez, who fought Unz’s campaign to restrict bilingual education. “His contention that English immersion is the best way to teach English is not borne out by the results in California.”
Bennett’s bill, SB 1179, was prompted by the Flores vs. Arizona case, which found that current funding wasn’t enough to ensure that students overcame language barriers. Currently, Arizona spends about $150 on every student who is classified as an “English learner.” There are about 125,000 such students in Arizona.
In October, a federal judge ordered the state to do a cost study for bilingual education before the Legislature convened for its regular session on Jan. 8. That didn’t happen.
The Arizona Department of Education is now doing the study, which won’t be completed until April. Bennett’s bill will set aside a spot or placeholder if the state must spend more money on students who are new to the English language.
In January, a report released by Senate Democrats estimated that it would cost an additional $170 million a year to meet the court’s demands.