Peter’s Take: Time to Finish the Job

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 RousselotIt’s time to finish the job of providing Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) programs at all Arlington public elementary schools.

As the Sun Gazette reported last week, parents at the elementary schools that currently lack FLES demanded again at the Sept. 12 School Board meeting that the School Board follow through on its repeated prior commitments to provide FLES. The School Board Chair re-affirmed that doing so is an APS priority. Parents who support finishing the job now are asking supporters to sign a petition.

This is a matter of simple fairness. Why is it taking so long?

The case for FLES in our globally competitive 21st century was made and adopted by APS years ago. It’s an excellent case, supported by many peer-reviewed studies that go back decades. The problem certainly is NOT that FLES lacks sufficient merit or that APS has not thoroughly studied FLES.

As I wrote in an earlier column, the major part of the problem lies with the County Board’s unnecessary spending on projects like the Aquatics CenterArtisphere, the Clarendon Dog Park, and the Columbia Pike streetcar. In the new normal for Arlington’s budget environment, the County Board’s improvident spending on such projects has made it harder for the School Board to complete its justified commitment to FLES.

Another reason the School Board may have been having trouble finishing the FLES job is that many Arlington teachers believe they should receive pay raises to make up for raises they didn’t get during the Great Recession, and that such raises should have a higher priority than completing the implementation of FLES. That’s a false choice.

Both these teachers and the parents who want the School Board to finish FLES are being constrained by the County Board’s misguided spending. It’s time for the teachers and the parents to join forces and tell the County Board to change its budget priorities.

Both Arlington’s residential and commercial real estate taxpayers are the common source of funding for all of these competing demands. Our public money is both fungible and finite across the entire spectrum of school and county spending.

Providing all of Arlington’s elementary school children with better opportunities to learn one language in addition to English deserves a higher priority than it has been getting.

Let’s finish implementing FLES now.

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

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