Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Court mustn’t allow state’s ELL failing to continue

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

The real shame of Arizona’s fight over English-language learners is that it has taken this long.

It is embarrassing that the U.S. Supreme Court has been forced to intervene in a case that we Arizonans should have resolved eons ago.

It is ridiculous that 17 years after a lawsuit was filed – in the time it took a disadvantaged third-grader to near college graduation – we still haven’t agreed that the right thing to do is find an effective way to teach English to students who grew up speaking another language.

But their lawyers were on Monday, appearing before the nation’s highest court and arguing despite an undeniable fact:

There is a vast gap in academic test scores between those students who grew up speaking English and those learning to speak the language. And since the injustice first was challenged, that hasn’t changed.

In 1992, Miriam Flores was in third grade in a Nogales school. In kindergarten, then first and second grades, she and about half of the students had been taught in Spanish as they learned English.

But in the third grade, everything was suddenly in English. Miriam, who had been a very good student, struggled.

Lawyers for the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest filed a class-action lawsuit to require a state program to teach English to students such as Miriam. In the ensuing years, Miriam Flores has neared graduation at the University of Arizona. She has succeeded, but the case bearing her name remains unresolved.

This case is not about illegal immigration. Miriam’s parents were and are U.S. citizens.

At the Supreme Court hearing, attorney Kenneth Starr, representing the state, contended that federal intervention is not needed because Nogales schools had made progress in teaching English to non-native speakers.

But Justice David Souter repeatedly and correctly pointed out that test scores still show a huge difference across the state. As long as such an inequity remains anywhere in Arizona, the state is not doing its job.

Starr maintained that the court should not continue to intrude into state government.

But state government has failed a large number of its citizens – and after all these years, a federal court appears to be the only way to force the state to fulfill its educational responsibilities.

The state is spending $300 to $400 per year for each English-language learning student. But estimates by education experts suggest it would cost $1,570 to $3,300 per student per year to get the job done – an amount the state has refused to appropriate.

It will be months before the high court issues its ruling. And in those months, thousands of Arizona schoolchildren will continue to be shorted in the classroom.

Seventeen years after a lawsuit was filed, Arizona continues to


substandard education to English


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