Schools seek delay in English-learner requirement
Arizona Daily Star
March 7, 2008

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By Howard Fischer
 
PHOENIX Arizona school districts want a delay in the law that requires they start providing four hours a day of special instruction to English learners beginning next school year.
Mike Smith, lobbyist for the Arizona School Administrators Association, on Thursday repeated the assertion his group has made that the $40 million in new funds the Legislature is being asked to provide is inadequate for the job. School districts and charter schools had asked for a combined $274 million.
The funding dispute likely will have to be decided in federal court, Smith said.
That will take time. But a 2006 state law specifically requires school districts to start using new teaching methods this coming school year for each of the 130,000 students classified as English-language learners.
Smith said the statute allows the state to withhold not only any new funds, but even take away the $360 per student that schools now receive for each English learner.
He said that if legislators reject a delay, the school superintendents will ask U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins to relieve them of the new teaching requirements while the issue of adequacy of funding is litigated.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said he will oppose any delay.
He said there is a "wealth of data" to justify the $40 million figure. Horne said that if lawmakers provide the $40 million he requested something he presumes they will do there is no excuse for schools not to put each of the affected students into four hours a day of special English immersion classes.
Collins has set a hearing for Monday in Tucson on Republican legislative leaders' request to postpone the already passed March 4 funding deadline that could subject the state to sanctions.
Horne predicted there's no way lawmakers will provide much more than that $40 million, no matter what a court orders.
In legal papers filed Thursday, attorney Tim Hogan, who represents the plaintiffs in the underlying lawsuit, backed the school districts' contention.
As proof, he cited the Nogales Unified School District, whose $26.2 million funding request was pared by Horne to just $751,312 and actually to zero if the district is forced to use other state dollars. But Hogan pointed out to Collins that he ruled last year that Nogales was taking funds away from other federal, state and local programs to provide the $1,570 per student in its English-learner programs.
"The clear instruction of the court's judgment and its orders is that the state is responsible for funding those costs, not Nogales which must rob other district programs to meet its responsibilities to its ELL students," Hogan wrote.
But he said that doesn't alleviate the need for lawmakers to provide at least that $40 million and soon.
In his legal filings Thursday, Hogan rejected the contention by lawyers for the Legislature that they need until mid-April to review Horne's requests and comply with Collins' order that they properly fund English-learner programs.
"The Legislature has had eight years to deliberate," he said, referring to the original 2000 court order that declared the state was not meeting its obligations under federal law to ensure that all children have an opportunity to learn English. That ruling was never appealed.
"The time for deliberation is over," Hogan continued. And he pointed out that lawmakers have, when they wanted to, gone from draft legislation to state law in two days.
In fact, Hogan called the entire plan going back to the 2006 law, the requirement to create teaching "models" for English learners and the procedure for districts to submit funding requests "yet another ruse for the Legislature to minimize if not avoid its funding of obligation in this case."
Collins has said he is willing to declare the state finally in compliance with the law and end the lawsuit first filed in 1992 if lawmakers adequately fund the teaching models.
Collins also said the Legislature must remove two provisions from the 2006 law he said violate federal law: a two-year limit on special funding for English learners and a requirement that schools first use certain federal grant dollars before they can seek additional state aid.