Molera offers ideas for plan on English issue

PHOENIX—State education officials are suggesting possible elements for a plan to satisfy a federal court order requiring the state to bolster programs for English-learning students.

Top aides to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera briefed legislators on Wednesday on “concepts” that include a new state program for county-by-county training of teachers and providing instructional computer software through a state program.

Also, there would be an unspecified increase in state funding – both a flat increase in the per-student payments for the state’s 151,000 English-learning students and new grants to schools or districts in so-called unique situations.

“These are some things we’re throwing out (for discussion) at this time,” Associate Superintendent Chuck Essigs said.

However, Essigs stressed that the points are subject to change and that because elements remain to be decided, there is no estimate on how much such a program would cost. That cost is of great interest to lawmakers who already face having to make budget cuts because of a shortfall in state revenue.

In January 2000, U.S. District Judge Alfredo Marquez ordered the state to upgrade English-learning programs which Marquez has ruled violate federal laws guaranteeing equal opportunities in education.

Marquez said state action is needed despite Arizona voters’ approval last year of a ballot measure to revamp instruction for English-learning students.

Students now in traditional bilingual education programs are to be steered into so-called immersion programs but can remain in traditional programs if school officials approve waivers requested by parents.

Marquez set a Jan. 31 deadline for legislative action but said lawmakers must act by the end of any special session that’s held before then.

Gov. Jane Hull recently issued a call for a Nov. 13 special session on the education and budget issues.

The outline presented by Molera’s aides to a legislative committee drew interest from some lawmakers but skepticism or opposition from others as well as from a lawyer for parents whose lawsuit produced the court order.

Attorney Tim Hogan said the computer software and teacher training are fine but that the plan falls short without recommending a specific increase in the $ 150 per student payment.

“They haven’t reached the core issue,” Hogan said.

Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, wondered what the cost would be but called the outline a “thoughtful and reasonable approach,” while Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, D-Phoenix, criticized the grants idea.

Any increase in funding should be across the board without requirements that districts jump through hoops to get the extra money, Lopez said.

The House and Senate committee, which met for the first time Wednesday in efforts to craft a plan for action, was drawn from two other legislative panels which were seen as rivals.

House and Senate members decided to combine the efforts and directed the members to offer a preliminary plan by Oct. 8-12 so it can be reviewed and possibly modified well before the Nov. 13 special session.

“I’m glad I’m not one of you guys because you have a tough, tough task,” Senate President Randall Gnant, R-Scottsdale, told the group.

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