Educators bristle at funding for languages

Local educators are reacting with skepticism to a recent state directive to deliver $1,200 for foreign language materials to all Georgia elementary schools in 2007-08.

"You can't teach foreign language for $1,200. That idea is a poor idea without any thought. The elementary schools can't have foreign language for $1,200. They won't even have a cultural parade," said Lounelle Beecher, the Richmond County school system social studies/foreign language coordinator.

She was not the only school administrator who scoffed at Gov. Sonny Perdue's redistribution of almost $1.6 million for statewide elementary school foreign language programs in the 2007-08 budget.

Wanda Golosky, the Euchee Creek Elementary School principal, thought the funding was designed "to appease everyone."

She said the blanket foreign language funding is just another underfunded initiative from the state that might be used more effectively in other areas.

"The state could look at some other funds that they've cut, like our K-through-eight reading program," she said.

Ms. Golosky and Cory Ellis, the Martinez Elementary School principal, questioned the feasibility of adding foreign language to the curriculum.

"We currently don't have a foreign language program, and, of course, $1,200 isn't much dollars in your pocket," Mr. Ellis said.

Barry O'Neill, the McDuffie County school system assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said he was glad to hear the debate about the importance and value of elementary school foreign language instruction.

However, he said, "With limited instruction time, how do you spend it? And you have to have community support."

Last year, only 29 Georgia elementary schools received state grants for foreign language programs.

Stevens Creek in Columbia County and Lake Forest Hills in Richmond County were the only local elementary schools to offer Spanish instruction. None of McDuffie County's four elementary schools have foreign language programs.

Under the reallocation, Stevens Creek had its state funding slashed from $120,000 to $1,200 for 2007-08. However, the Columbia County school board authorized a $142,982 expenditure in the 2007-08 budget to preserve the program for another year.

Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Mr. Perdue, said some elementary schools previously received as little as $2,500 in state funding for their programs. He also encouraged local school systems to fund foreign language instruction in their elementary schools.

Dana Tofig, a state Department of Education spokesman, said the $1,200 earmark will be included in 2007-08 state allocations to local school systems, which will distribute the funds to their elementary schools.

"The instruction from the governor is to split it up equally amongst all schools." said Mr. Brantley. "The idea is that everybody would be able to participate."

Mr. Tofig said in an e-mail that schools could use the funding to purchase virtual foreign language programs.

He and Dr. O'Neill said some schools use SALSA, a video series produced by Georgia Public Broadcasting, to teach Spanish to young children.