English-learner plan unveiled
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 18, 2005
Governor would spend $185 mil more on schools
Robbie Sherwood and Chip Scutari
Gov. Janet Napolitano offered a plan Friday to satisfy a federal court order
by spending $185 million a year more on Arizona's growing number of students who
struggle to learn English.
The program would start with $13.5 million this school year but would grow to
$185 million by 2009, or roughly $1,300 more for every student classified as an
Administrators in school districts with large immigrant populations have said
they need the extra money to shrink the size of classes, update materials and
equipment, provide more individual instruction, and better train teachers.
More than 160,000 students in Arizona speak foreign languages, mostly
Spanish, and are struggling to learn English. The situation is believed to be a
main reason for Arizona's high dropout rate, as well as the inability of many of
the children to adjust to life in Arizona.
"This is not an option for us, we're under a court order to fix this," said
Becky Hill, Napolitano's education adviser. "We can't just throw away 20 percent
of our student population. To ignore this is not smart business. This is about
the long-term future of Arizona."
Napolitano faces an uphill struggle getting her plan through a
Republican-controlled Legislature, whose less-expensive plan she vetoed last
The Legislature's strategy would have provided a similar amount in the first
year. But it would have then become a grant program where schools could apply to
the Department of Education for extra funding. The grants would not be
Napolitano hopes to call a legislative special session later this summer to gain
approval for the plan. The money would start increasing during the 2006 school
year, and the final cost will depend on how many English-learner students are in
Arizona schools when the new programs go into effect.
The spending increase would come from the state's General Fund. Currently,
Arizona spends about $355 on children who have to overcome language barriers.
Napolitano's plan comes one month after she vetoed a Republican-backed bill on
English-instruction funding, angering GOP leaders who said she was trying to
play "governor and judge." In her veto message, Napolitano said the Republican
plan would shortchange Arizona children.
On Friday, Republicans quickly questioned the governor's proposal. House Speaker
Jim Weiers wondered why the state should spend so much to educate
non-English-speaking kids, many of whom he said are in the state illegally or
have parents who are undocumented immigrants.
"Under the governor's program, this becomes Mexico's best school district north
of the border," said Weiers, R-Phoenix. "There's more in this proposal than the
entire funding for the Department of Public Safety. How ironic."
Weiers said the Legislature's plan was superior, not just less expensive,
because it required schools to justify how much money they would need to tackle
their English-learner problems. It also mandated that new money would be spent
on English-immersion programs, not on bilingual instruction, a method that
districts must obtain waivers to use after voters rejected it in 2000.
But Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest said he
supports Napolitano's proposal. Hogan, an attorney who successfully sued the
state, said the legislative plan fell far short of complying with the federal
court order because there was no guarantee that English-learner programs would
be adequately funded in the future.
Hogan called Weiers' comments about immigrant children "ignorant."
"Three-fourths of the (English-learner) kids are United States citizens, if
that's what he's referring to," Hogan said. "And, moreover, those kids, just
like everybody else, have constitutional rights, and one is to participate to
the same extent as everybody else in public school. Repeated Supreme Court
decisions say that's the law. If he wants to keep looking for excuses to violate
the law, that's up to him."
Earlier this year, Hogan threatened to ask a federal judge to strip the state of
its federal highway funding. That could cost the state more than $400 million.
So far, Hogan has not gone back to court to ask for that sanction.
The issue of English-language learners grew out of a lawsuit, Flores vs.
Arizona, filed by a Nogales family in 1992. Legislators have been under the
gun from a federal court order to spend more money on English-language learners
in Arizona. The Republican plan would have spent $42 million overall for
English-instruction programs and teacher training.
Napolitano aides said her bill would tackle existing deficiencies and is
designed to comply with the federal court order. Besides the added funding, here
are some of the key elements of Napolitano's plan:
• The money would be put into a special, segregated fund that could be used only
for English-language learners.
• There would be annual audits of how every dime was being spent and would
require schools to report their academic progress for those students.
• The auditor general, who is a legislative watchdog, would develop a format for
districts to detail how and why they were using the money.
Weiers argued that Napolitano's plan lacks the accountability of the
Legislature's proposal because it doesn't require schools to justify their
spending on English learners until after they get the money. But Hogan said
Napolitano's plan has rigorous accountability measures that "ensure that the
money gets where it's needed."
Democrats want to have public hearings around the state over the next month to
see what parents, teachers and residents think of the plan. The first community
forum is tentatively scheduled for June 28 in Phoenix. A location has not been
The issue of teaching children English has been a thorny problem for lawmakers
for years. In January, a federal judge ruled that lawmakers are shortchanging
the students and ordered the Legislature to fix the problem by the end of its
2005 session. A court-ordered cost study in February said Arizona would need to
spend an additional $210 million a year to help students overcome language
barriers and get a decent education, or more than $1,000 more per child.
GOP lawmakers disputed the study's findings, calling it flawed. Napolitano aides
said they used several studies, plus their own research, in determining the
proposed amount for the spending increase.
Along with the English-learner plan, Napolitano included a new proposal Friday
for a corporate tuition-tax credit for private and parochial schools. Napolitano
had vetoed the proposal because she said lawmakers did not include a promised
"sunset" provision to repeal the tax credit after five years. Republican leaders
have said they made no such deal and have repeatedly accused Napolitano of
breaking her word on a negotiated budget deal. They have said they want their
original bill signed before they will even talk about the Flores lawsuit.