School Superintendent Sheila Breen joined over 100 colleagues at the State House last week to persuade lawmakers to reverse an underfunded new mandate for English language instruction.
After speaking with District 1 legislators - Sen. Tom O'Halleran and Reps Lucy Mason and Andy Tobin - she was optimistic that they made a positive difference that could spare the district an extra $100,000 in costs next year.
"We talked to legislators and they were surprised at the significant costs to implement it," said Breen. "We'll probably see some legislation introduced in the House Education Committee to postpone or suspend or repeal the requirements."
Under the mandate for a structured English immersion program, starting next fall districts must provide at least four hours per day of English instruction in the place of regular classes for students who don't demonstrate language proficiency on the AzELLA (Arizona English Language Learner Assessment). Because of Grand Canyon's four-day school week, the requirement here would be five hours. Currently, the district's approximately 40 ELL students receive a range of services from separate English language instruction to assistance in their classrooms from ELL Coordinator Mary Ann Garvey.
To meet the requirement of the new law would take a new position and a half "and all that goes with it - classroom, materials, supplies and computers," said Breen. Flagstaff would have to add 28.
Meanwhile, what the state will pay is based on the state wage average - not actual salaries - and does not cover materials, supplies and physical facilities.
Aside from the cost, Breen said educators also questioned whether students benefited from less time with English-speaking peers.
"All of the districts in the state are struggling with this model," said Breen. "We're saying 'We'll do it, but what you've got to do is fund it. If you can't fund it, take away the mandate to do it."
The effort was organized by the Arizona School Administrators and Arizona School Board Association. In all, half of the state's districts were represented, including every one in Coconino County along with county Superintendent Cecilia Owen. That turnout helped get lawmakers' attention as well, Breen said.
Potential ELL students are identified through a questionnaire that is part of their registration packet. They're given the AzELLA, then placed accordingly. Breen compared it to the process by which students are identified for special education services.
The model is available at the Arizona Department of Education Web site at http://ade.state.az.us/asd/lep/.
Breen said she is also happy to explain the issue and help parents enter the advocacy process. She is available at 638-2461, ext. 400 or Sheila@grandcanyonschool.org.
To contact state legislators:
Rep. Lucy Mason,
Rep. Andy Tobin,
Sen. Tom O'Halleran, 602-926-5584 or