Education

Ed. Groups in California Sue Over Lack of Monitoring for ELLs and Others

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 11, 2009 2 min read

A number of education organizations in California filed a lawsuit in a state court today alleging that California is violating federal laws and the state constitution by suspending the monitoring of specialized education programs for at least one year. (My first thought on this was, “Someone must be trying to save some money in a state desperately short of cash.”)

The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of California in San Francisco against the state, says programs that won’t be reviewed include those serving students who are English-language learners, migrants, neglected or delinquent, or homeless. (See the press release from groups that filed the lawsuit here.)

Shelly Spiegel Coleman, the executive director of Californians Together, one of the groups bringing the lawsuit, told me in a phone interview that without the monitoring, “the districts are not held accountable for providing the services that are needed and for using the money to support the academic success of the students.” She added that in California’s current budget crisis, the money for specialized education programs in the state “is an easy pot of money to use [for other educational purposes] when no one is looking.”

Jack O’Connell, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, announced in a March 23 memo to school districts that he was suspending all “non-mandated on-site categorical program monitoring visits for at least one year.” He wrote: “During these challenging times, I want districts and schools to be able to focus their energy on improving student achievement and not on preparing for program audits.”

Spiegel Coleman contended said the department may be saving on travel costs but not salaries because the consultants who usually do the monitoring are still working for the California Department of Education. She contends that the federal money the department gets for monitoring should be spent on monitoring.

O’Connell’s memo says, “I have directed my staff to use the time and resources they will save from not conducting on-site reviews to conduct a top-to-bottom review of our compliance monitoring system.”

June 12 Update: Hilary McLean, the director of communications for the state education department, explained to me that the state has less need to monitor state specialized programs that are paid for with “categorical funds” because the new state budget gives school districts a huge amount of flexibility in how they can spend that money. In some cases, she said, because of budget cuts, the programs won’t exist anymore. “How effective would monitoring be if districts aren’t obligated to use the funds for that purpose?,” she said. She also noted that the suspension of monitoring of non-mandated state programs is a separate issue from the monitoring of programs funded by federal dollars in California, such as those funded with Title I or Title III funds from the No Child Left Behind Act.

What do you think? How important are on-site monitoring visits of programs by state officials for ensuring that school districts are running programs for ELLs properly?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.