Hearing scheduled on English education
Judge OKs a broad scope for the meeting
Davenport - Jul. 27, 2008 12:00 AM
A federal judge in Phoenix has scheduled a wide-ranging November hearing on the adequacy and funding of Arizona's programs for educating students who are learning English.
In the meantime, U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins on Friday left intact a state mandate that school districts begin using a new instructional model that many districts contend is inadequately funded.
The broad scope of the 10-day hearing in Tucson ordered by Collins is a win for lawyers for plaintiffs in the case, a class-action lawsuit on English Language Learning Programs for approximately 135,000 students.
Republican legislative leaders argued that most issues in the case, including changes made in response to previous court orders, have been resolved already.
Collins agreed with the plaintiffs that he should consider a range of funding issues as well as whether the state satisfied a comprehensive order issued in 2000 by the previous judge in the case, originally filed in 1992.
However, the plaintiffs' lawyers didn't get everything they wanted.
As expected, Collins refused at least for now to prohibit the state from requiring school districts to begin using the new instructional model that is a cornerstone of a 2006 state law revamping ELL programs.
The plaintiffs argued that the $40.6 million in additional funding being provided by the state is far short of the dollars needed by districts and charter schools to implement the model.
It includes a new requirement for four-hour ELL instruction time periods for students learning English.
State officials supporting the mandate for the model contend that the dollars provided are based on districts' actual needs and supplement existing funding.
Collins' stance means the requirement to use the model remains in place as school districts across the state prepare to begin the 2008-2009 school year.
The judge's order left open the possibility that he could still issue the requested injunction.
But he had effectively signaled earlier this month that he didn't plan to block the requirement from taking effect when he told lawyers in the case that he was granting the request by the legislative leaders and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne for a hearing on the plaintiffs' requests.
Also, the judge adopted a months-long schedule proposed by Horne, an ally of the Republican legislative leaders, for pre-hearing fact finding. That was far longer than lead plaintiffs attorney Tom Hogan argued was needed.
"We are anxious to get going as quickly as possible," Hogan said during a scheduling conference Thursday.
Holding the hearing in November gives the sides enough time to prepare and still give the judge time to rule before the next legislative session starts in January, David Cantelme, the legislative leaders' attorney, said during the scheduling conference.