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Gibson: ESL programs deserve more funding: Huron, other districts see growing need

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 8th, 2013

Peggy Gibson

HURON — School districts with an influx of non-English speaking families should get more state funding to help children who, in many cases, don’t even know how to read and write in their own language, a Huron legislator said.

It’s a fairness issue as communities like Huron, Aberdeen and Sioux Falls see a growing number of refugee families.

“If low-income wage jobs and non-living wage jobs are going to be brought into South Dakota communities and refugees brought in to work at these jobs and then their children are part of our school district, then we need to help our school districts,” Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, said Thursday.

The 2013 legislative session starts Tuesday. As she prepares to head to Pierre for her third term in the House, Gibson outlined some of the expected issues at the Beadle County Democratic Forum.

ESL funding, Medicaid expansion, corrections funding, a driving while texting ban, proposals from the Legislative Rules Committee and the budget and where to spend one-time monies are among some of what Gibson believes will be the major issues.

Her attempt a year ago to get more state funding for English as a second language programs failed, but she thinks it will have more traction this time.

Huron teachers are working with 638 English language learners, many of whom are at the lowest level in their understanding and don’t know how to read and write their native language either.

The families are boosting sales tax revenues with their spending and the school districts should benefit from some of that money, Gibson said.

Once the children reach the higher levels of English proficiency they can be immersed in regular classrooms.

“Once they get there they do fine in the classroom,” Gibson said.

“But there is that curve, and it’s not fair to the teachers to have a huge group of non-English speaking learners in their classroom because it inhibits you from teaching all of the other students,” she said. “Nobody gets a fair shake here.”

Meanwhile, she said the Democratic Party has contacted school districts across South Dakota to learn how they have dealt with funding cuts the past few years.

Classroom sizes and teacher loads have increased, teachers are retiring and districts like Huron are having difficulty attracting new teachers. Many positions in the Huron district remain unfilled and new teachers are opting for higher paying positions in surrounding states.

Gibson said good school districts like Huron’s are being destroyed through under funding. The answer is not to just throw money at them, but to fund necessary programs.

She sees Medicaid expansion as the most contentious issue in the upcoming session. Federal funding will pay 90 percent for the first three years.

Gibson said studies have shown that it saves lives and gets people out of poverty. In South Dakota, it would impact 38,000 people in helping them with their medical needs.

“If you do that on a base level it will save money in the long run,” she said.

The Teen Safe Driving Task Force she served on will bring legislation to ban texting and driving, as several communities have already done. Huron’s ban is beginning with a grace period.

The task force also studied the teen driving age and whether it should be raised or whether the provisional license should be required longer. Mandatory driver’s education was also reviewed.

Legislators will be asked to take steps to end South Dakota’s No. 1 position in the nation in the number of teen fatalities in vehicle crashes.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard and his administration is also pushing to get a handle on the exploding prison population and the imminent need to build more prisons if something isn’t done.

Unless the number of men and women being incarcerated is not controlled, the state will need to spend millions of dollars to build correctional facilities in 2015 and 2020.

Most prisoners are behind bars for nonviolent drug and alcohol convictions and Gibson said more money should be spent on the front end with community-based treatment programs and rehabilitation.

Treatment typically doesn’t work the first time.

“But to lock them up in prison is not the way to treat a disease,” she said.

For the complete article see the 01-04-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 01-04-2013 paper.

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