Committee Looking at Improving Bilingual Ed

Lack of Teachers Given as Problem

More than 111,000 Arizona students struggle with English, and educators across the state say school districts don’t have enough qualified staff or money to meet the children’s needs.

A legislative study committee is considering proposals to ease the state’s shortage of bilingual and English as a Second Language teachers. Nearly 300 bilingual and ESL teaching positions have gone unfilled in 50 school districts, according to a recent survey by the Arizona Association for Bilingual Education.

Committee members also are debating whether to require state monitoring of school programs for Limited English Proficient students and conduct a study to determine whether Arizona should increase funding for LEP students. Spanish and Navajo are the predominant other languages, but students speak more than 85 tongues in Arizona classrooms.

The 10-member panel missed its Dec. 1 deadline to make recommendations to Gov. Jane Hull and legislative leaders. On Tuesday, the committee postponed acting on proposals drafted by one of the committee members, Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, D-west Phoenix. Some committee members and a state Education Department official said they didn’t have enough time to study them. Another meeting is expected to be set for next week.

Proposals under consideration include:

*Increasing state funding for LEP students. Arizona provides $162 in additional funding per LEP student. The last cost study, conducted in 1988, showed the cost was $464 per student.

*Prohibiting community members, paraprofessionals and other pupils from being the primary instructors for LEP students. Nearly 2,500 people without teaching certificates provided services to LEP students during the 1997-98 school year, according to a state report.

*Requiring the Arizona Department of Education to monitor the 50 schools with the most LEP students at least once every four years.

*Requiring universities to allow students to receive a bilingual education or ESL endorsement with a bachelor’s degree in education, rather than having to take additional coursework. Educators say it’s tough to get teachers to seek the bilingual or ESL endorsement because of the extra cost and time involved with taking the classes.

Lori Baker can be reached at [email protected] or at (602) 444-7120.

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