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Bipartisan English Language Learner bill puts students first

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Discussions at the Capitol surrounding public education have largely been about funding — and with good reason. But too often these conversations turn into partisan talking points, and students are the ones who pay the ultimate price. Yet there is a piece of legislation that serves as an example of what can happen when lawmakers and community members come together.

HB2435 is a bipartisan piece of legislation that will help approximately 83,000 struggling English Language Learners (ELL) students.

Stacey Morley

Stacey Morley

Arizona is a local control state. This means there is no state-adopted curriculum, textbooks, or materials. But with ELL instruction, the state adopted a one-size-fits-all solution, allowing for no flexibility regardless of what is best for the students, schools, and communities. Many of these policy decisions were made due to voter-protected mandates, requiring English-only classrooms and Structured English Immersion as an instructional practice. Additionally, the state was embroiled in a federal lawsuit (Flores v. Arizona) and faced several complaints from the Office of Civil Rights surrounding programs and funding for ELL students.

As an organization that works in school districts with ELL students, we’ve seen firsthand the struggles students experience due to state-level policies. To add insult to injury, ELL students perform below all other subgroups on the statewide assessment, at every grade level and subject area — even lower than students with special needs. Although the rates of transition into mainstream classrooms appeared to improve over time, in reality the bar was set too low, and these former ELL students continued to struggle academically. After raising the bar to a more accurate level last year, the number of students qualified to transition dropped to 16 percent from 25 percent.

Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, shared these concerns, so he convened stakeholders to evaluate ELL statutes. Understanding the legal issues, we sought to identify areas that could be changed to increase student achievement, provide for flexibility in implementation, and provide data for policymakers on effective instructional practices and efficient use of resources. The result was HB2435, a bill that maintains the requirements which voters mandated but allows for flexibility at the local level. It increases accountability and transparency and ensures all ELL instruction meets quality standards.

As much as the school funding conversation is wrought with contention and opposing views, HB2435 is widely supported by educators and has broad bipartisan support. This is because everyone agreed that something needed to change. Although everyone didn’t initially agree on the solution, through compromise and working together, we are about to take a monumental step forward for ELL students. We’re truly on the brink of changing the lives of 83,000 students for the better, and we thank lawmakers for putting students first.

— Stacey Morley is the government affairs director at Stand for Children Arizona.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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