Judge again orders state to improve English-learning programs
Associated Press
Mar. 22, 2007



A federal judge ruled Thursday that legislators must do more to improve school programs for students learning English, saying a 2006 law didn't go far enough.

U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins in Tucson ruled eight weeks after concluding a January hearing on whether the state was in compliance with a federal law requiring equal opportunities in education.

Collins' ruling puts the contentious 15-year-old legal and political issue before lawmakers again. He ordered lawmakers to act by the end of the current session.

The judge had ruled in April that a law enacted March 2, 2006 to revamp English Language Learning programs left the state's programs inadequate, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August overturned that ruling.

The appellate court ordered Collins to consider the impact of educational system changes made since another judge ruled in 2000 that Arizona's ELL programs were inadequate in such areas as teacher training, class sizes and instructional material.

A previous judge ruled in 2000 that the state's supplemental per-student funding for ELL programs didn't provide dollars needed for students to master the state's academic standars, Collins noted. "More than seven years laer, circumstances in this regard remain the same."

Tim Hogan, an attorney for the lawsuit plaintiffs, welcomed the ruling. "On the one hand, the court has denied the Legislature's effort to end this case. On the other hand, we've got to go back to the Legislature and get this program fixed," he said.

Collins had fined the state $21 million before the Legislature enacted the latest law on March 2, 2006, but the 9th Circuit's ruling wiped out the fines. The money never left the state treasury.

The 2006 law would increase the state's supplemental funding for each ELL student to $432 from the current $358 and also require school districts and charter schools to use their choices of new instructional models still being drafted by the state.

Upon implementation of the models, districts and charter schools would be eligible for additional funding to cover their costs. However, the law also required them to subtract some federal dollars they currently receive.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in 1992 on behalf of parents and students from a southern Arizona district, Nogales Unified.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, a defendant in the lawsuit, had argued that Collins should consider only conditions and student achievement gains in the Nogales district, but Collins refused. He said he had to consider circumstances statewide because funding for Nogales "was not considered in a vacuum."

State officials in recent years have estimated the number of affected students at between 150,000 and 160,000 students. But a Dec. 1 state Department of Education attendance report put the number of ELL students at 134,621, out of total K-12 enrollment of 1,066,861