Language funding becomes law without signature
April 15, 2008
Governor declines to sign
Mary Jo Pitzl
Napolitano let a bill that allocates an additional $40 million for English
instruction become law without her signature Monday, expressing concern that the
state still has unfinished business on the matter.
The action on the eve of a court deadline should avert the $2 million-a-day
fines U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins threatened to impose. He gave the
state until today to present an adequate funding plan.
But the governor said the $40 million and the way it is allocated are "far from
a perfect solution" to the problems posed by the state's long-standing debate
over how to educate students struggling to learn English.
In a letter explaining her action, the governor noted the state is still under
court order to remove two provisions from the English-learner program. She urged
lawmakers to revise portions of the state law that require the schools to limit
English-intensive instruction to two years, and to remove a provision that
allows the state to count federal dollars toward their instruction costs.
She echoed the complaints of school administrators who say the immersion program
may deprive English-learner students of adequate time in math and English
classes. And she said the program needs more than the $40 million the bill
"Appropriation of the approximately $40 million of funds is only a first step to
providing Arizona's children with a chance to read, write and speak English,"
Last month, educators said it would take $300 million to adequately pay for the
four-hour immersion requirement in the state law that takes effect this fall.
Currently, the state provides $375 for each student classified as an
English-language learner. House Majority Leader Tom Boone said he was pleased
that the governor is allowing the measure to become law.
He said the Legislature's action with Senate Bill 1096 simply addresses the
federal judge's requirement that the state provide funding for English
"It's one step at a time," said Boone, R-Peoria.
The other issues raised by the governor are still being appealed, and lawmakers
don't want to change the law until that process has played out, Boone said.
Besides, the funding plan doesn't count federal education dollars against a
school district's allotment, Boone said.
Tim Hogan, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case, said it makes
little difference to him if the $40 million goes into law without the governor's
signature: The state's solution is deeply flawed.
"We're ready to go back to court," he said. "This shows the inadequacy of the
funding, particularly since there are bunches of schools which get no money."
Under the legislative plan, some school districts with large English-learner
populations get no money for the required four hours of English-intensive
education that schools must provide beginning this fall. That's because the
state plan discounted money that those schools are already spending on English
learners. Other districts, with smaller populations of English-challenged
students, get more money because they have not diverted funds to specific
There are an estimated 138,000 Arizona school children classified as deficient
Hogan represents the original plaintiff in the Flores v. Arizona case, as
well as parents in the Nogales school district.
He said he'll ask Judge Collins to "fully fund" the English-learner programs
and, until such time, block the requirement that school districts use the model
programs created by a state task force. That would eliminate the four-hour
Hogan said he expects to return to federal court on the matter some time next
Meanwhile, legislative leaders welcomed the governor's move.
House Speaker Pro Tem Bob Robson, R-Chandler, said the governor was wise to let
the bill become law. Her action shows she recognized the will of the House and
the Senate to direct $40 million into the program, even though she may have her
own misgivings about the state's approach, he said.
Lawmakers last week approved the funding plan, largely with Republican support.
Some Democrats also voted for the plan, saying it was important to move forward
with some level of funding, even if they believe it's not enough.
The governor's decision to not sign the bill is the same move she made two years
ago when lawmakers crafted their plan to set up a structured English-immersion
program. She let that bill become law without her signature, a way of expressing
disappointment with the approach but without bringing on financial penalties.