TUSD switches $11M to bilingual ed

Federal funding intended for vocational education and homeless teens is diverted, drawing mixed reaction.

More than $11 million in federal grants was spent on TUSD
bilingual programs last year even though the funding was not
earmarked for that purpose, the Tucson Citizen has learned.

That means Tucson Unified School District received an extra $634
in federal money for each of the 17,550 students in bilingual
programs.

The annual base support level for other TUSD students is about
$2,520.

The practice of using federal grants – such as those intended for
vocational education and homeless teens – instead on bilingual
programs is both defended and criticized by district officials.

TUSD board member Rosalie Lopez is concerned about possible
repercussions.

“When there is disregard for appropriate allocation of the funding
– such as it offends the funding source – they have the right to
withhold further funding or choose not to do business with us in the
future,” she said. “If the federal government wanted to play
hardball with TUSD, they could cripple this entire district.”

But fellow TUSD board member Joel Ireland, the former board
president who oversaw last year’s budget, said there is nothing wrong
with shifting funding as the district sees fit.

“All those funds, the way they are being used is appropriate. I
think the use of those funds reflects the demographic needs of
Tucson,” Ireland said, referring to Tucson’s high Hispanic
population.

The latest figures on bilingual education come from a report
released this week by the Arizona Department of Education, using TUSD
financial data.

“(The state) asked us to report district funds, which have been
used to purchase supplementary materials, equipment, supplies, and
training of staff,” explained Becky Montao, TUSD assistant
superintendent for curriculum/instruction.

Other Tucson-area school districts did not report similar funding
practices for bilingual programs.

Arizona Department of Education spokeswoman Laura Penny said TUSD
should not necessarily be singled out for its practice, noting that
other districts most likely do similar fund shuffling but failed to
report it to the state.

“TUSD should be congratulated for reporting how they use the
money. That is important information for parents to have,” Penny
said.

“Part of the public discussion that needs to go on is: Are we best
using this money to serve the students for which it is intended?
That is not a question I can answer for any school district,” she
said.

TUSD’s Montao said she now regrets the district doing such a
detailed breakdown.

“We won’t be doing this again (next year),” she said.

Montao said she stands behind the bilingual education
expenditures, but disputed the total federal grant allotments the
state claims were paid to TUSD last year.

The district was given several opportunities to correct the
alleged discrepancy, but no additional data were provided to the
Citizen.

According to state figures, TUSD bilingual students benefited from
$1.11 million of a $1.15 million federal grant intended for
vocational education students.

TUSD also used an entire federal grant for homeless teens –
$43,800 – on bilingual programs.

Catalina High Magnet School counselor Dorie Johnston said the
district is taking too much money from students who are already
underserved.

“I don’t see where all of this money is going, but it’s not going
in my kids’ pockets,” said Johnston, who last year worked with at
least 44 homeless students at her school.

“It’s not enough. The kids need more.”

Johnston, who has been working with homeless teens for more than
10 years, said she often digs into her own pockets to help them.

TUSD board member Lopez said she is critical of the district’s
handling of the funds, not of bilingual education.

“The merits of a bilingual program is different than the way it is
funded,” she said.

But Lopez called diverting money from vocational education
programs into bilingual programs “a real worry.”

“That is really hurting the program,” said Lopez, a vocal
supporter of increasing vocational education programs in TUSD.

“If we get in trouble (with the federal government) over our
funding allocations, then we put the entire program at risk,” she
said.

Bilingual education opponent and TUSD teacher Hector Ayala also
was critical of the practice.

“It’s unfair for a program that gets as much money as bilingual
education gets to take away money that benefits other students,” he
said.



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