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ELL Programs Brace for Funding Cuts

From Guest Blogger Liana Heitin

Last year, the superintendent of public instruction in Arizona, Tom Horne, implemented a host of regulations concerning the instruction of English-language learners. Students not proficient in English were to have four hours a day of direct English instruction: an hour each of grammar, reading, vocabulary, and conversation. During this time, they would remain in a self-contained classroom with a "highly qualified" teacher and other students at their proficiency level.

In order to institute these new requirements, schools with a high number of ELLs (mostly urban schools) had to find and train ELL teachers, create new language curricula, buy new materials, and hire additional aides. The projected cost of complying with the standards was $275 million. Schools were allotted $40 million.

Yesterday, in his annual speech outside the state capitol, Horne noted that the ELL program has been successful, with some districts doubling the rate of proficient students. He said ELL students should have to pass the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards test, which he wants to expand to include history standards, before moving up a grade. He also announced that the new budget for language instruction would be cut to $8.8 million dollars, a figure he deemed sufficient for maintaining current progress.

And while cutbacks are inevitable these days, unions and public-interest lawyers are struggling to see the logic in making further reductions to an underfunded program—particularly one the superintendent claims is working. Why was Horne quick to hack at funding after a year of defending his decision to implement the radical instruction model? Are you seeing contradictions between ideologies and funding cuts in your area?

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