Lawmakers Turning Education Into Unnecessary Nightmare

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Education should not be political.

It should be practical. It should be effective. It should be forward thinking.

It should never be a place for soapboxes and grandstanding. It should not be the place where children get buried under the emotion and misguided logic of adults.

But that is exactly what is happening right now in Arizona as the Legislature turns decisions over English Language Learners (ELL) into another facet of the debate over illegal immigration.

While they have been completely ineffective in making decisions about the border, they are taking stands instead about powerless children. They are flexing their muscles by denying funding to Arizona students who do not speak English, to hide their inability to control the behavior of adults.

On March 22, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins ruled that the legislature had until the end of the session to provide adequate funding for ELL programs.

Yet, the Legislature adjourned this summer without addressing the issue.

Granted, it's a politically charged issue, but they have had since 2000 when former U.S. District Judge Alfredo Marquez ruled that the state underfunds ELL programs.

We have 221 ELL students in the Payson Unified School District.

It is federally mandated that we must educate these children.

But there is a Catch-22. With one hand, the government will demand that we educate them and saddle our teachers with "No Child Left Behind" standards to meet, but with another hand, they call the issue a political minefield and refuse to adequately fund the efforts.

The Arizona Legislature is setting our teachers up for failure.

Currently, the Payson Unified School District receives $360 per ELL student. Studies have shown that the true need is closer to $700 per pupil.

To compensate, the Payson school district is pulling money out of its Maintenance and Operations budget to cover the shortfall. Which means, that it isn't just the ELL student who is suffering. It is every student in Payson.

The dollars from the M&O budget that Payson spends on ELL represent a textbook that cannot be purchased for a regular classroom or a salary that cannot be paid for a regular teacher.

This failure of the Arizona Legislature is cheating every child in every class in the state -- not just the 133,000 Arizona students learning English in our public schools.

A fully funded ELL program includes teachers hired specifically to meet the needs of English learners. It purchases audio and visual equipment and proper textbooks that allow these students to succeed.

Last week, Tucson attorney Tim Hogan filed a request with Judge Collins to fine the state until ELL is fully funded. The fines would begin at $500,000 per day and escalate to $2 million per day until the state takes action.

Those fines will be paid by the taxpayers.

The Arizona Legislature has an obligation to reconvene and address this issue. They must come up with a solution that fully funds ELL.

By not funding ELL, lawmakers may think they are taking a stand about the border. Instead, they are creating a nightmare for teachers and cheating our students out of the education they deserve.

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