Language funding hits snag

Jim Blaylock/Staff
Olga Biancheri, a Spanish teacher at Stevens Creek Elementary, uses hand signs to teach a first-grade class the alphabet during class. Gov. Sonny Perdue reallocated $1.6 million in state funding for this school year so that every elementary school in the state will receive $1,200 for foreign language instruction, but disagreements over its use has kept it from being allocated.

Educators agree that children are better equipped to learn a second language at an early age.

However, the most effective way to fund and implement foreign language programs in Georgia's elementary schools is still being worked out.

"It comes down to time and money," said Lauren Williams, the Columbia County school system associate superintendent of student learning.

Gov. Sonny Perdue reallocated almost $1.6 million in state general funds for elementary school foreign language programs in the 2007-08 budget.

Under this plan, approximately $1,200 in funding for foreign language materials was earmarked for every elementary school in the state.

However, none of the schools has received that money yet.

"The money has not gone out because there is still kind of a dispute between the governor's office and the Legislature about how that money should be assigned. Once they've resolved their differences, we will distribute that money in some method," said Dana Tofig, a state Department of Education spokesman.

He also said there is no guarantee that this funding will be allocated again next year.

Penny Jackson, the Richmond County school system curriculum coordinator, said school administrators are waiting until they have the money in hand before they make plans to implement new foreign language programs.

"I believe foreign language is extremely important. Obviously, the younger you do it, the better kids adopt it for it to be successful. But it does take some planning and some research," she said.

Lake Forest Hills and Jenkins-White are the only Richmond County elementary schools that offer foreign language instruction.

Dr. Williams said schools must consider if core classes and other programs such as art, music and physical education would suffer if foreign language was added to the curriculum.

She said compensation totals about $55,000 per teacher, which would cost the school system almost $1.9 million in salaries and benefits alone if each of its 17 elementary schools had two foreign language teachers.

"It would be very costly if the state won't be a player in it," Dr. Williams said.

Stevens Creek, the lone elementary school in Columbia County that has a foreign language program, was one of only 29 elementary schools in the state that received funding last year - $233,839 - for its program.

The PTO and school board also contributed funding.

Principal Michelle Paschal said administrators are working on plans to expand foreign language classes to other elementary schools.

"We realize that the board cannot continue to fund something for one school," she said.

Reach Betsy Gilliland at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or betsy.gilliland@augustachronicle.com.