Fair Funding is Critical to Successful Education of English Language Learners

Statement by Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA President and CEO

IDRA is disappointed by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Horne vs. Flores involving Arizona’s funding for programs serving English language learners. Schools should have access to sufficient funding based on actual costs of serving English language learners. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lau vs. Nichols requires states to adopt effective instructional practices for English language learners and to provide funding to support those efforts. But in Horne vs. Flores, the court cited new circumstances in Arizona
that need further review by the lower courts.

There has been a flurry of confusion about the ruling. Here are some important points.

  • The Supreme Court did not rule that Arizona provided sufficient funding for ELL education.
  • The Supreme Court did not rule that Arizona’s immersion program is better or worse than bilingual education methodology.
  • The Supreme Court did rule that the Equal Educational Opportunities Act is viable law and has not been replaced by provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Supreme Court decision in Horne vs. Flores is a missed opportunity. The court could have affirmed the need for appropriate funding levels for ELL education. Schools need additional funds for assessment, staffing of teachers who are trained in serving ELL students, specialized staff training, specialized materials, and time and space factors. IDRA research has shown that, for example, bilingual education should have additional funding of 40 percent, but in Texas is only funded at an additional 10 percent. As a result of this and other factors, English language learners in middle and high school drop out at twice the rate of the larger student population in Texas. They are retained at rates consistently double that of their peers. And they perform worse than their peers by a margin of 40 percent or more on the TAKS. Nationally, there are significant gaps in achievement between English language learners and non-ELL students.

IDRA’s policy update released earlier this year on the status of education of English language learners identifies improvements that are needed at the federal, state and local levels, including increased and more equitable targeted funding that is based on actual costs of services needed.

We hope that future deliberations relating to equity in funding, including funding provided ELL programs, are more in line with national research on these important issues.

(See statement September 1, 2009; and one page overview of Horne vs. Flores)

[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]