Lawmakers to seek extension on English funding
Capitol Media Services
Feb. 27, 2008


By Howard Fischer

Tucson, Arizona | Published:

PHOENIX State lawmakers are going to ask a federal judge for more time to comply with his order to fund programs to teach English.

Attorney David Cantelme, who represents the Legislature, said lawmakers cannot possibly meet the March 4 deadline U.S. District Judge Raner Collins set last year for programs to be in place.

Missing the deadline comes with a risk. The judge said in his original order that he might begin imposing daily fines if Arizona has not complied by that date. Attorney Tim Hogan, who represents the parents who successfully sued, said he would seek penalties up to $1 million a day.

Cantelme acknowledged the only way to get that deadline pushed back is to assure Collins lawmakers will, in fact, comply with his order by some certain date. And that, he said, means legislators will have to shell out more money than they want at least for the time being.

His assessment is shared by state school superintendent Tom Horne, who put the additional cost at about $25 million a year.

Collins last year said he would accept the provisions of a 2006 law designed to bring Arizona into compliance with federal statutes requiring states to make sure all students have an opportunity to learn English.

That law requires all schools to submit funding requests based on how much they believe it will cost them to teach students English based on models approved by the Department of Education. The law then requires the state to fund the requests after they have been screened by the department.

Cantelme said Tuesday that some schools have not yet submitted their forms, which means it will not be possible for Horne to submit a budget request by this coming Tuesday, much less have funding in place.

That, however, is just part of the problem.

The 2006 law specifically reduces each school district's state funding by the amount of federal aid they are receiving for similar programs. But Collins ruled last year that deduction is illegal, a conclusion upheld on Friday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Cantelme said that means the only way for lawmakers to comply with Collins' order is to fund the requests without the offset.

Cantelme said the lawmakers he represents don't agree with Collins' ruling. But he said that remains the law unless the U.S. Supreme Court rules otherwise.

The cost difference is significant. Horne said he believes the cost to state taxpayers without that federal deduction could run as high as $50 million. But he said if Collins' order eventually is overturned the cost would be cut in half.

Horne said he will use the higher figure when he submits his funding request to the Legislature at the beginning of next week. He agreed with Cantelme that it would be illegal for him to request a lower amount while Collins' ruling remains in effect.

State education officials estimate there are 130,000 students in Arizona schools who are classified as "English language learners," meaning they come to school speaking another language and are not yet proficient in English. That represents about one out of every seven children in public schools.