Panel wants study before funding bilingual ed

A state legislative committee is recommending a study of the best ways to teach students with limited English skills and the costs of their education.

Until that is done, schools wouldn’t get any more money for the 113,000 students statewide who lack English proficiency.

Those are the main recommendations approved yesterday by the English as a Second Language and Bilingual Education Study Committee for legislation in the spring session. Votes on most items were bipartisan, said member Rep. Laura Knaparek, R-Tempe.

Gone from this year’s recommendations are time limits for providing special instruction to students with limited English skills. For the past two years, Knaparek has introduced bills to restrict the amount of time that the state will pay for such services.

The committee called on the state auditor general to consider the merits of time limits and determine which programs are the most effective, Knaparek said.

These recommendations come as bilingual education is under scrutiny on two fronts.

A Tucson-based group is collecting signatures for a November ballot initiative to ban bilingual education. And a federal judge is considering a ruling on a lawsuit claiming the state fails to give enough money to educate students with limited English proficiency.

A 1988 study found that it costs an average of $424 per student to run programs for such students. Now, Arizona districts pay an extra $162 per student on such services.

Rep. Dan Schottel, R-Tucson, the committee chairman, said the Legislature likely will have to take up that issue during the spring session. But he said some lawmakers believe that providing more money for such students gives school districts a disincentive to move those students to regular classrooms.

At the committee’s meeting last week, districts urged the committee to add money to programs for limited-English-proficient students, especially because of a worsening teacher shortage.

Districts asked for money to train more teachers and stipends to entice qualified teachers. But Schottel and Knaperek said they don’t think teachers should be paid differently based on their student population.

“If we’re going to give an extra stipend to school teachers, I could see doing that for math and science teachers, too,” Schottel said.

To increase the teacher pool, the committee is asking universities to allow students to complete requirements for English as a second language and bilingual qualifications at the same time as their regular teaching certificate.

The committee also is asking the Board of Regents to study how many teachers are needed statewide for all subjects.

Comments are closed.