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Bargain ELL Horne touts is greatly exaggerated

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

Like Houdini shedding his shackles, Arizona’s schools superintendent has magically sloughed off three-fourths of the cost of English language learning.

Tom Horne announced Wednesday that Arizona schools will need only $8.8 million from the state to provide mandated four-hour instructional blocks daily to ELL students.

That’s just a fraction of the $40 million Horne’s Department of Education predicted would be needed.

And it’s a mere sliver of the $300 million that school districts estimated they require.

So student needs this immense suddenly can be met with less than $9 million? Pardon our skepticism, but please. Show us the data.

Horne insists his staff showed schools how to teach more students with fewer new teachers. Plus, more students are gaining English proficiency, so more teachers aren’t needed, he contends.

But that’s not what district superintendents, teachers and principals are saying, notes John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association.

And it doesn’t jibe with the experiences at Tucson Unified School District and other districts, which have struggled to implement the new ELL model with the state’s inadequate $40 million funding.

From $300 million to $40 million to a mere $8.8 million? “Pretty soon it’ll be zero,” quips Tim Hogan, executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest.

Hogan, the lawyer for the long-running Flores family lawsuit over inadequate ELL funding, says Horne’s current data are “suspicious.”

More students were reclassified as proficient in English, but why that occurred isn’t clear.

“It’s a huge jump from one year to the next,” he notes. “We don’t know if it’s from changing the test. But to conclude it’s because of the four-hour model may not be correct because that wasn’t implemented until this year.”

Even if the sudden surge can be attributed to the new ELL program, “You can’t sustain one-year results if you don’t fund it,” Hogan says.

Arizona officials have resisted repeated federal court orders to provide the state’s English language learners with adequate education.

Horne’s cost “reduction” fits that pattern. Worse, it comes without any research-driven data to prove that students statewide can get four-hour blocks of ELL on a mere $8.8 million.

Horne routinely asks school districts to provide his office with data to support their contentions. He’d best cough up the data himself, if he expects anyone to believe $8.8 million will do what $40 million couldn’t.

Arizona schools may not be the nation’s best. But even our kids can do that math.

Spouting fantastic numbers on cost savings, schools chief Tom Horne now needs to show us the data.

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