On a way, I wish Gov. Sonny Perdue had waited one day to announce he was releasing funding for Georgias elementary foreign language program.
Dont get me wrong: Im elated he did so. And because the announcement came on Tuesday, June 24, it saved my wife from having to leave our vacation and drive three hours to Appling to plead with the Columbia County School Board to save the program at her school.
But because the announ-cement came on Tuesday instead of Wednesday, well never really know if the School Board would have saved the highly regarded program, or of theyd played the equity card and let the program die because no other Columbia County school has it.
Even so, we have to take good news where we can get it. And its funny, too; just after Perdue an-nounced he was withholding funding from the states model program, he left for a trade trip to Germany. Foreign language supporters couldnt pass up the easy shot, wondering if Perdue would notice that in most places he wouldnt need an interpreter because kids in other countries learn a second language - English - as a matter of long-standing routine.
That experience that turned Perdue around on the issue. During my recent trip to Europe, I noted one stark contrast between their education system and ours, says Perdue in a letter to the schools. European students learn a second language in the early grades. Together with parents, foreign language educators, the Profes-sional Standards Commis-sion and the Legislature, I will work toward the day that all Georgia students have access to instruction in a second language.
Geez; we wanted him to get the message, but didnt expect it would be such a hammer whacking him over the head. He really does get it - and the 26 Georgia schools will get their money.
Theres still a problem at the other end of the funding rainbow, however. Perdue makes it clear lawmakers and local systems will have to find ways to fund a foreign language program beyond those 26 schools. Hes right that it isnt fair to restrict it to just those schools.
As with many other such things, though, theres a lot more to this funding story. When this program was created, part of the agreement with local systems that applied for the grant was theyd have to support and expand the program.
Columbia County didnt. With the exception of a one-time, partial bailout of South Columbias program last year, the local school system hasnt spent an extra dime on elementary foreign language. And rather than expand it, Columbia County let South Columbias program die. Kids there next year will no longer have access to foreign language instruction, even though a county study recently recommended such instruction as a priority.
Other systems around the state that received the foreign language grants have put their own money into the program, unlike Columbia County. But even those systems were content to allow the programs to roll along in just one or two schools, without trying to build on and expand.
That may ultimately be the programs undoing. Local support cant just be in funding - it must also be in a commitment to build on the programs success by ex-panding it to other schools.
Columbia County hasnt funded elementary foreign language in the past, and it has allowed the small program to shrink. And thanks to Perdues trip and a nick-of-time announcement, we dont know if the school board, even now, would have come to the rescue of a program that everyone - especially my wife, who was saved from a trip of her own - loves to brag about.
We may never know - until next year, when Perdue looks over the budget numbers again and tells local school systems to put up or shut up in the only universal language: Money.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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