Skip to comments.Many tongues, fewer dollars: Number of non-English speakers has tripled in decade
Posted on 03/04/2002 2:18:40 AM PST by sarcasm
The number of children in Colorado's public schools who need help learning English has more than tripled in the past decade, outpacing state funding by 10-to-1 and setting off budget crises statewide.
State funding targeting English-language learners has dropped from $221 per student in 1992-93 to just $90 per pupil today. School officials in many districts say that's barely enough to test the students as required by law, much less buy special materials, hire teachers or provide extra tutoring.
"If we relied on that to educate our students, we would be so woefully inadequate as to be committing a crime," said Jorge Garcia, director of bilingual education for Boulder schools.
The result: School districts are dipping into their general operating budgets, asking voters for tax increases and scrambling for federal grants to pay the full costs of moving more than 71,000 students speaking 140 languages into traditional classrooms.
Consider Boulder, where state funding will pay only $130,000 of the $3.9 million spent this year to teach English to 2,500 students. In nearby Aurora, where nearly 8,000 students are learning English, state funding will cover only 19 percent of the district's costs.
Even small rural districts feel the pinch of the funding gap.
In Center, a small town in the San Luis Valley, the district uses online courses to teach physics and calculus so it can free up money for the 33 percent of students who are learning English.
In Ignacio, near Durango, the district cut its music, art and gym programs in half so it could improve English language instruction for its growing number of American Indian students.
"There is a colossal ripple effect throughout the districts," said state Board of Education member Gully Stanford, "because you are inevitably forced to borrow from Peter to serve Paul."
A Rocky Mountain News look at state funding for English-language learners found:
Some Colorado lawmakers say they would like to put more money into English-language programs. But they say the dollars simply aren't available.
"It's a pretty ugly year as far as finances go," said state Rep. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, sponsor of this year's school finance bill.
In previous years, lawmakers opted to give school districts more in unrestricted operating dollars and not specific programs, said state Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood.
"There is nothing in the law that prevents the school districts from taking the money we fund them with and spending it on that," she said.
Dan Hopkins, spokesman for Gov. Bill Owens, said Owens has pushed for increased state funding for schools. That, combined with voter approval of Amendment 23 to funnel more dollars in schools, has meant an overall 32 percent increase in school funding in the past three years.
"This overall increase should help," Hopkins said.
State funding for English language instruction dates back to 1981 when lawmakers passed Colorado's English Language Proficiency Act, also known as ELPA.
The law required districts to identify non-English speaking students, teach them English and test their progress. But it did not promise to fully fund the costs.
Instead, ELPA set funding caps of what now equals $545 to $1,090 per student based on ability level to "help defray" the costs. That money is to come on top of the per-pupil operating dollars all students bring into school districts.
Little has changed about ELPA since its passage 21 years ago. For 15 years, from 1984 until 1999, funding remained static at $2.6 million.
Meanwhile, the number of English-language learners exploded across the state.
In the small town of Brush east of Fort Morgan, a meat-packing plant and tomato greenhouses draw many migrant families.
"Fifteen years ago, we had one little old lady who worked three days a week and went from school to school, working with the six kids we had," said Mary Montgomery, who works with Brush and other rural districts on the Eastern Plains.
Today, Brush has an English as a Second Language teacher and a classroom assistant in each of its four schools. At Thomson Elementary, which serves pupils in pre-kindergarten through first grade, ESL teacher Joyce Schomaker works with 42 students and monitors 33 others.
"The pre-kindergarten teachers would like more help," she said. "But we're strapped as it is."
In Aurora, the number of English-language learners has increased eightfold since 1991-92. In Westminster, students learning English make up 31 percent of the district's total enrollment.
And in Denver, the state's most diverse large district, 18,336 students come to school speaking 80 languages other than English.
But because of the law's two-year restriction, only 9,173 of those students are receiving funding this year under ELPA. Statewide, school districts report they are serving 71,011 English-language learners -- 10 percent of the state's students -- while ELPA is funding only 36,756.
Wayne Eckerling, DPS assistant superintendent, said the district will pull an additional $11 million out of its general operating budget this year to meet the needs of students learning English.
"It's clearly a lot of extra costs for which there's really no reimbursement," he said. "You're trying to provide extra resources based on kids' needs, but you're not really funded that way."
In Northglenn-Thornton, district officials say they would like to set up English language programs in each school.
But they can't afford it, said Adams District 12 administrator Julie Jensen. So they transport English-language learners to special centers.
"We just haven't kept up," Jensen said.
In Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs, the district gets $80,000 in state funding for 900 English-language learners but spends $1.2 million.
Raises for teachers so they can live near the resort-area district are not possible, said Superintendent Judy Haptonstall.
"We are squeezed every which way," she said.
In the mid-1990s, the funding crunch and its impact on instruction drew the attention of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. In 20 school districts, it found problems such as too little instruction, inadequately trained staff and failure to monitor students' progress.
So districts entered into monitoring agreements with federal officials to improve programs for English-language learners.
Eleven Colorado school districts, including Aurora and Jefferson County, operate under such agreements, said Department of Education spokesman Roger Murphey.
In Gilcrest, in Weld County, schools Superintendent Jo Barbie-Redmond said the district's agreement was a blessing in disguise.
"It forced us to take a look at how we were serving that population," she said. "It forced us to do what we needed to do."
With a voter-approved tax increase last fall, Barbie-Redmond plans to hire three more teachers for the 13 percent of students who are learning English.
"I think it's money well spent," she said.
Now, the state funding issue has led to exploration of a class-action lawsuit against Colorado, similar to one in Arizona.
In January 2000, a judge ruled Arizona's funding for English language acquisition wasn't enough to overcome language barriers. The state was spending about $160 per student at the time, almost double Colorado's financing.
Arizona lawmakers agreed to increase spending by $45 million, said Tim Hogan, lead attorney in the suit. That brings the amount to $320 per pupil.
A study by the Arizona Legislature's Democratic caucus found it costs about $1,500 per student to provide adequate English language acquisition.
Hogan said Boulder attorney Kathy Gebhardt has been to his office twice reviewing the Arizona case. Gebhart was among the attorneys who filed a 1998 class-action lawsuit against Colorado over school building funding.
"She spent a lot of time with this file here," Hogan said.
Gebhardt declined to comment on a possible lawsuit. In speaking publicly to state lawmakers last week, she and Denver attorney Craig Stewart said they are investigating Colorado's funding for English-language learners and special education students.
Amendment 23, the constitutional change to better fund Colorado schools, has helped. Last year, it pushed ELPA funding up 6.3 percent to $3.3 million.
In addition, $1 million began flowing into selected school districts this year under another state law. That law means more money for 1,787 English-language learners who meet specific criteria such as taking statewide tests in Spanish.
"Clearly, it doesn't fund the program," said state Sen. Pat Pascoe, D-Denver. "It's a token."
George Welsh, superintendent of Center schools, said funding needs to keep pace with the state's push to improve education through testing and school report cards.
One in three students in his district in the San Luis Valley are learning English.
"If you are going to set these standards and expect schools to achieve them, you need to give them the dollars that are necessary to make that possible," he said.
"If I were to give the state legislature a report card on the funding for the programs that they are expecting us to do these wondrous things with, I'd give them an F."
How many times have I posted on FR that my grandkids can't learn that 6 X 6 = 36 because the teachers are too busy teaching Juan and Maria to say "goodbye" instead of "adios".
We didn't have these problems in the 40's and 50's when I went to school because if you couldn't cut the mustard, you simply were not allowed in school.
Thats the way it should be now.
I was raised by the law of the jungle. Only the fittest survive. I have no problem with that.
Perhapes Jorge can explain how throughout all of American history immigrants have managed to learn English without even these basic extravagances.
With no special attention he managed to teach his own parents English, gain admission to Boston Latin (which then, as now, was an exam school) and go on to the University of Pennsylvania.
He still laughs about Boston Latin, because in those days one had to take four years of Latin and ancient Greek. Ancient Greek was similar enough to modern Greek that he considered that, this time through, it was he that had a leg up over the other students.
He's still alive and laughing in West Palm Beach, AKA The Land of the Living Dead.
And a hard core conservative by-the-by. He managed to get his butterfly ballot correct.
LOL!! Greek is a tough language to learn. I was stationed on the Island of Crete when I was in the USAF and I was able to learn enough to get by but that was about all.
We have several Greek diners in downtown Dallas and I occasionally stop in one and attempt to talk to the owners in their native tongue. Sometimes I even get a free Gyro because I was on Crete and remember some things about Knossos.
People respect you when you respect them and their culture.