Napolitano's plan to boost ESL funding met with skepticism

By Howard Fischer

PHOENIX - Gov. Janet Napolitano is preparing her own plan to bring the state into compliance with a federal court order to boost funding for English language instruction.

But a top Republican lawmaker said the governor's interest now is irrelevant, as lawmakers don't trust her.
Napolitano's move is an about-face for the governor who refused during the legislative session to suggest how the state should deal with the court order.
In fact, Napolitano put no money into her own budget proposal to provide better English language instruction.
What changed is that the governor vetoed a plan crafted by Republican lawmakers, calling their proposal unacceptable to her because it was unacceptable to legislative Democrats. GOP leaders responded it is now her responsibility to come up with an alternative.
Napolitano told Capitol Media Services Wednesday she is doing just that. But she does not yet have any specifics.
"We're meeting and talking with people now as to what makes sense," she said.
"I'm glad to see she's engaged," said House Majority Leader Steve Tully, R-Phoenix. But he called it "a little late," saying he doubts Republicans will deal with her.
Part of that, he said, stems from Napolitano's veto of budget provisions Republicans believe she had agreed to sign, including tax credits for corporations who give to organizations that provide scholarships for private and parochial schools. Tully said she needs to make good on those promises.
"You can't negotiate with someone who doesn't live up to their agreements," said Tully.
Napolitano, however, said Republicans didn't deliver the bill they negotiated.
The school funding issue is pressing because a federal judge ordered the state to come up with additional funding by the end of the legislative session or face possible sanctions.
Napolitano's veto of the GOP leaves the state out of compliance. But attorney Tim Hogan, who represents plaintiffs in that lawsuit, said he will give the state a few weeks before asking Judge Raner Collins to impose sanctions.
Tully said Republicans believe their plan complies with federal law. It provided a flat amount of additional cash for each ELL student this year, with schools then required to show their costs to get future funding.
He said he's not worried Napolitano will blame Republicans if the judge finds the state in contempt.
"You can't screw somebody over and over again and say, 'You're being an obstructionist,' "Tully said.
Senate President Ken Bennett said Napolitano was wrong to veto a plan before Collins got to look at it.
The governor, however, said the state needs to comply not only with the court order but also determine "what really needs to be done for the English language learners." She said the GOP plan fell short, chiding Bennett and others for wanting to send it to Collins.
"These are the same legislators who complain about activist judges interfering in the legislative prerogative," she said.
Senate Minority Leader Linda Aguirre, D-Phoenix, said she will meet with Napolitano next week to push her own plan. That would give more dollars to schools for each of the approximately 175,000 students classified as English language learners than the current $355 extra now provided.
But even the most conservative version of Aguirre's plan calls for more than doubling that figure, carrying a $77 million price tag. Rep. Tom Boone, R-Glendale, said that is not the answer.
"It's not about throwing more money at it," he said. Boone said Republicans wants schools to justify their costs to the state Department of Education as well as identify other funds they already get to help teach English.
Aguirre, however, said school officials told her that creates an unnecessary bureaucracy.
She also questioned the legality of giving different amounts of money to different schools, noting state constitutional requirements for a "general and uniform" school system.