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Speaking of English . . . : Demand for ESL Training Far Outstrips Available Classes

November 26, 1987|RENE ROMO | Times Staff Writer

When an English as a Second Language (ESL) class for adults was opened this month at Middleton Street Elementary School, it was the 19th extra class begun by the Huntington Park Community Adult School since September.

The classes were created to try to meet the tremendous demand for ESL in the area. But even after enrolling 426 non-English speaking adults in the classes, more than 800 others were left on the waiting list.

"We can't keep up with the demand," said principal Oscar L. Gallego.

The situation is typical of many of the adult schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where the number of students on waiting lists for ESL classes has risen sharply in recent years. There are about 24,000 adults now waiting to get into English classes. Of the district's 400,000 pupils in adult education, 200,000 are in ESL.

Gallego was able to open additional English classes this fall in Huntington Park and Bell in anticipation of his school's share of $6 million earmarked by Gov. George Deukmejian in the 1987-88 budget specifically for ESL growth statewide.

The money will be allocated to school districts in proportion to need, based on the number of non-English speaking students in the kindergarten through grade-12 programs, according to Gabriel Cortina, assistant superintendent in charge of the Division of Adult and Occupational Education, which runs ESL programs.

Although the promised funding initially allowed the Los Angeles district to reduce its waiting list by 6,500, the list has grown by almost the same amount since then, according to Dale MacIntyre, who keeps statistics for the adult education division.

Suit Filed Over Shortage

Last month, the Bell chapter of the League of United Latin-American Citizens (LULAC) joined three other plaintiffs in filing suit against the Los Angeles Unified School District over a reported shortage of ESL classes for adults and a 1986-87 waiting list of 40,000 names.

In the lawsuit filed in Superior Court in October, LULAC, along with the Assn. of Mexican-American Educators and two private citizens, charged that the Los Angeles Unified School District violated the 1924 California Education Code which requires ESL instruction for non-English speaking adults "to a degree of proficiency equal to that required for completion of the eighth grade."

But district officials say they simply do not have the money to keep up with the demand. They say the state put a cap on the growth of ESL classes, restricting state funding to allow just a 2.5% increase each year in six of the last eight years. Currently, 57% of the total adult education budget in the district is allocated for ESL.

At the Huntington Park/Bell adult school, about 2,700 of its 4,200 students are in ESL classes, and the school's total enrollment could increase by 20% with ESL students alone if it had the money, rooms and teachers. The school operates 41 ESL classes, including the 19 recently opened.

"Our position is that when you are mandated by the state, you have to meet the need," said Carmen Estrada, attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, representing Maria Elena Perez, a plaintiff in the suit. "It's just like the school district has to provide education for children from kindergarten to 12th grade. They can't put those kids on a waiting list."

Ramiro Garcia, assistant superintendent for bilingual education and coordinator of ESL districtwide for K-12 classes, disagrees, saying the district is not required to provide an ESL class for every adult seeking admission--although it would like to do so.

"We are legislated by state ordinance to serve (K-12) students so that they can meet the graduation requirements," Garcia said. "The difference is that those students must be served, and the other group is supplementary.

"And we are unable to keep up with the demand. If we could, if we had the financial capability, we would do that. We don't have a philosophical difference with (the plaintiffs in the lawsuit)."

The Huntington Park/Bell adult school, which has 7.9% of the district's non-English speaking students, was notified in September it could expect to receive about $125,000, enough to fund 19 classes, said Marty Varon of adult education budget services. Hundreds of students, almost all Latino, flooded into the available classrooms.

When Gallego learned about the extra allocation, he scrambled to find teachers and facilities for the new classes. He placed students in satellite classrooms in Bell's Little Bear Park and, in Huntington Park, at the Salvation Army Church and a Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The adult school serves the communities of Huntington Park, Bell, Cudahy and Maywood. It normally operates at night at two high schools--Huntington Park High School and Bell High School--and is directed from Huntington Park High by Gallego.

Census Figures Cited

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