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Peter’s Take: Wrong Budget Priorities Stall Foreign Language Teaching

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Peter RousselotEarlier this year, when Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy unveiled his proposed schools budget, he coined a new phrase to describe school expenditures which he was NOT proposing. He called them “unfunded investments”. George Orwell would have tingled with admiration.

Among Dr. Murphy’s unfunded investments was any money to start foreign language instruction at any Arlington elementary school that is not already offering such instruction. Acknowledging the inequity of the current situation in which some elementary schools offer this instruction while others do not, Dr. Murphy polished his Orwellian credentials by calling these unfunded foreign language programs “lighthouses to places we need to be going”.

Let’s acknowledge right up front that in a schools budget currently exceeding $500,000,000, there are areas in which savings could be achieved and should be achieved. Let’s also accept Dr. Murphy’s estimate that it currently costs about $450,000 per school to add a foreign language program to each of the nine elementary schools that currently lack one. In Arlington’s current budget environment, the best that could be hoped for is that this instruction could be phased in over several years. There is no sign, however, that any such gradual phasing is actually going to occur.

Parents at Tuckahoe Elementary are mounting a last ditch petition drive to ask the County Board to provide such a program in their school. In their petition, the Tuckahoe parents state:

“Tuckahoe students are being denied the important educational opportunity of learning a second language at an early age. 13 out of 22 Arlington elementary schools have this opportunity, including nearby schools such as McKinley, Jamestown, Ashlawn, and Glebe.”

These Tuckahoe parents may not succeed this year, but by taking their case directly to the County Board they have found the right target. It is the misplaced spending priorities of the County Board, not those of the School Board, that are primarily responsible for the unfair and inequitable situation in which these Tuckahoe parents now find themselves.

As I wrote last week, excessive and extravagant spending by the County Board on projects like the Artisphere, the Aquatic Center, the Clarendon dog park, and the Columbia Pike streetcar are directly impacting the ability of Superintendent Patrick Murphy to honor promises to the schools’ community to expand elementary foreign language instruction.

The County Board has dropped a black curtain over the beacon that might otherwise shine from Dr. Murphy’s lighthouse.

Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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