Judge to lawmakers: Fund English classes
Capitol Media Services
Jan. 26, 2005
Running out of patience, a federal judge ordered state lawmakers Tuesday to provide more money for English instruction programs by the end of this legislative session or face possible sanctions.
U.S. District Judge Raner Collins said in Tucson that legislators have failed to meet prior deadlines set by the court to comply with an order to properly fund these programs to teach English to students who come from homes where that is not the predominant language.
Collins rejected pleas by attorneys for the state to give lawmakers a chance to act on their own, and at their own pace.
Collins noted that it has been more than five years since another judge found the state was violating federal laws that require the state to ensure that all children learn English.
"If the court were to defer its ruling to see if the Legislature acts on its own, it may jeopardize any opportunity for the English Language Learner programs to be funded during this legislative session," Collins wrote in his six-page ruling. The result, he said, is that "the children will have to wait more than another year for any type of relief."
The session is likely to run into May or June.
Collins did not say what will happen if legislators balk. But attorney Tim Hogan, who represents the parents who sued, has said the proper remedy would be for the judge to block Arizona from getting about $400 million a year in federal highway funds.
House Majority Leader Steve Tully said lawmakers are interested in resolving the lawsuit, filed more than a dozen years ago. But Tully refused to promise that lawmakers will come up with extra money this year, suggesting the state might file an appeal, further delaying action.
The lawsuit, filed by parents of students in the Nogales Unified School District, charged the state was not complying with federal laws requiring schools to offer adequate English-language instruction. Judge Alfredo Marquez ruled in 2000 that the $150 per pupil in additional state aid being provided for students with limited English skills was "arbitrary and capricious," with no bearing on actual cost.
Lawmakers subsequently voted to increase that, with the current figure standing at about $360 per pupil.
Marquez rejected that in 2002 because it was not based on any actual data of the real cost. He gave lawmakers until Dec. 1, 2004 to complete a study, a deadline that passed without action.
There was a study by the National Conference of State Legislatures that pegged the actual cost at anywhere between $700 and $2,500 for students with the greatest need. That could translate to $200 million for the approximately 200,000 students in Arizona schools who lack a command of English.
Tully dismissed that report, saying it was flawed and did not really answer the questions that lawmakers asked. A revised report is due in mid-February.