Federal investigators have concluded that the state of Arizona is violating the civil rights of many children who are not native speakers of English by denying them the extra services in school to which they are entitled.
The violations could lead to a loss of millions of dollars in federal funding for education under the anti-discrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act.
Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, however, charges that the investigations are just the latest in a series of attacks that began after the passage of Arizona’s controversial anti-illegal-immigration law.
“I do think this is a lot of nonsense we’re dealing with over 1070,” Superintendent Tom Horne said of the federal findings.
Arizona’s Education Department is already being probed over claims of discrimination arising from an order last spring requiring school districts to fire any teachers of non-native speakers who are not fully proficient in English.
Critics charge that the order singles out bilingual Latino teachers who might not speak English perfectly but can still offer positive role models for students.
“I’m sure they’re going to find everything is fine,” Horne said of that probe. “Teachers who are teaching English need to be fluent in English, and if kids can understand what they’re saying, it’s not an issue.”
There are two separate complaints arising from the latest investigation. One alleges that the Arizona Department of Education has inaccurately classified “many thousands” of students as proficient in English, based on the Arizona English Language Learner Assessment. As the test is presently conducted, a student who is fluent, say, in spoken English but not in written English could still be classified as proficient overall.
The president of the Arizona Education Association, Andrew Morrill, suggests that the test appears to have been designed deliberately to save money by giving fewer students access to services.
Horne, however, insists there was no such intent. “I’ll let our testing people talk to their testing people, and if they agree that anything should get changed in the test then we’ll change it,” he stated. “But there’s certainly no effort to keep people out.”
The second complaint has to do with a recent change in the state’s home-language survey so that it asks parents only what the student’s primary language is and not about their first language acquired or what language is spoken at home.
When the redesigned survey was used last year, the number of students who were singled out to be tested for proficiency in English declined by 46% from the year before.
Horne said that the state is working with the federal investigators on the survey, and “We won’t change it back, but we might make changes that will satisfy their needs and our needs.”
“This is why I’m running for attorney general, because we need someone to fight against these things,” he added