Originally created 03/16/04

Perdue shows commitment to foreign language program



The amount might be smaller this year, but some say Gov. Sonny Perdue's willingness to keep money in the budget for Elementary School Foreign Language Model Program shows his commitment to its importance.

Funding for the ESFL Model Program is in the governor's 2004 amended budget and in the 2005 budget, both of which have yet to receive final approval from the Legislature.

The governor has budgeted $1.8 million for the program in 2004 and the same amount for 2005, said spokeswoman Loretta Lepore. In 2003, $2.1 million was allotted.

"He didn't want children who were benefiting at this time to have learning interrupted," Ms. Lepore said. "He is hoping schools will eventually - as was the intent - take over the funding for it so it doesn't become a question in the future."

Legislators, educators and foreign language advocates across the state have fought - and won - the past two years to keep the money in the state budget.

"After the response last year to his deferral of the funding and all of the uproar he heard from constituents who participate in ESFL funding, I'm thrilled that he decided to leave it in this year," said Denise Rosenzweig, a Stevens Creek Elementary School parent and foreign language advocate. "I think it sends a message to local school boards that foreign language is important."

Though the program has been subjected to budget cuts, legislators said they believe the money will remain in both budgets this year.

Lake Forest Hills in Richmond County and Stevens Creek in Columbia County are the only two schools in the area that have ESFL programs, which provide elementary pupils with 30 minutes of Spanish instruction each day. The state pays for only a portion of the cost.

In Richmond County, the school system foots the remainder of the bill, but in Columbia County, Stevens Creek parents shoulder much of the financial burden.

"For us, it's critical to keep our program going if the local system does not implement the program. We are dependent on it for those salaries," said Stevens Creek Principal Michelle Paschal, whose school has been participating since the 1997-98 school year.

The Columbia County School System for the past two years has studied the feasibility of offering Spanish in all of its elementary schools, but some board members feel it would be too expensive to fund without state support.

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or melissa.hall@augustachronicle.com.