With over 150,000 English language learners (ELL) attending Arizona public schools, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins was correct to say these students need help "as soon as possible." But the funding distribution plan he devised won’t get the job done.
Collins ordered that $21 million in fines accrued by the state be dispersed to schools according to ELL enrollment. If carried out, the ruling will increase supplemental funding for each ELL student from roughly $360 to about $500. Governor Napolitano would like that amount to be closer to $1,300.
But absent a restructuring of the ELL system, increased funding of any amount will not guarantee success. If the governor’s funding plan were implemented, school districts would stand to lose $1,300 for each English language learner they deem proficient. Como se dice “perverse incentive”?
The logical approach is to implement a system that encourages schools to succeed rather than fail. One solution is a time-limited ELL grant program that gives students the opportunity to attend the school that will get the job done best. This would force schools to compete for students by offering effective programs.
Two-year proficiency grants would incentivize schools to expedite the English learning process. And specialty schools, such as those modeled after the Berlitz Method would also have an incentive to open. Fundamentally, a grant system makes money work for students, no matter the amount in question.
Arwynn Mattix is a Goldwater Institute Ronald Reagan Fellow.