Napolitano seeks state exemption of fines over English-learner case
Arizona Republic
April 2, 2008


Mary Jo Pitzl

It's not fair to expect Arizona taxpayers to shoulder a fine of $2 million a day in the state's long-running English-learner case, Gov. Janet Napolitano argues in asking a federal judge to spare the state from the penalty.

Besides, she says she has worked hard to resolve the Flores vs. Arizona case, now approaching its 16th year in the courts, according to a filing in U.S. District Court.

Attorney Tim Hogan, who is pressing the case against the state, says Napolitano needs to work harder to resolve the case and urged her to bring her "best efforts" to the cause.

He suggested that the governor tie her approval of the state budget to adequate funding to English-language-learner programs, which is the issue at the heart of the legal battle.

The case affects nearly 138,000 schoolchildren.

"Unfortunately, the governor has never assigned a sufficiently high priority to the ELL funding issue," Hogan wrote in a brief filed with U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins.

Hogan, who represents the school districts that are required to educate students deficient in English-language skills, asked Collins to reject the governor's request to exempt the state from daily fines.

He wrote that the governor's fall-back position - that if fines are levied, they be directed to English-language programs - is unacceptable. That's because in a previous ruling, Collins had imposed fines that were later overturned. That makes the likelihood of the governor's request "uncertain," he wrote.

The back-and-forth on the fines comes as the state is nearing an April 15 deadline to prove to the court that Arizona has adequate funding in place to pay for English-language programs.

Collins last month ruled that if the state does not have a funding plan in place by that date, the state could be subject to daily fines of $2 million, climbing to $5 million as time goes on.

House Majority Leader Tom Boone, R-Peoria, said the amount of money for the Flores settlement is tied up in ongoing budget negotiations.

But, he said, the deadline is workable.

"The Legislature has every intent of meeting the April 15 deadline," he said.

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