Plainly speaking
Arizona Republic
May. 18, 2005
Lousy plan to teach English deserves a veto

The task was to fix the way the state educates students who don't know English.

The plan lawmakers turned in last week was a last-minute, slapped-together, late-night mess that would earn a failing grade from any teacher in the

Gov. Janet Napolitano should veto it and call lawmakers into special session. We need a real solution, and we've needed it for a long time.

More than five years ago, a federal court ruled that Arizona was not properly funding the education of English-language learners. Nothing was done to satisfy the requirements of Flores vs. Arizona until a court-imposed deadline several years later.

At that time, lawmakers increased funding as a stopgap measure and called for a study to determine the full costs.

Fast forward to this year. Lawmakers express "grave concerns" with the methodology and quality of the study they ordered and should have been monitoring. That study, which relied on panel of experts to determine the additional costs of educating English-language learners, put the price tag as high as $210 million a year.

The plan passed late on the last night of this session by Republicans - over the protests of Democratic lawmakers representing the children who need help to learn English - increases funding by $28 million for one year only.

Senate President Ken Bennett said that was nearly what Democratic lawmakers had wanted. But the amount is less of an issue than the method devised to dole out future funding.

Democrats wanted the money for more than one year, and they wanted a system that provides additional funding based on the number of students who need it.

What Republicans devised was a scheme for yet another study to determine costs. (And if this one comes up with a too-high price tag, will they express "grave concerns" once again?)

What's more, instead of providing a set amount of funding per pupil, this scheme makes schools justify their needs district by district, charter by charter, and apply periodically to the Department of Education for grants that will vary, district by district and charter by charter.

It's an arbitrary system and won't satisfy the court, says Tim Hogan, of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, which represents the plaintiffs in Flores.

In addition, it puts a lot of power in the state Department of Education and sets up a layer of bureaucracy that should make small-government Republicans cringe.

Lawmakers can do better than this - and they should have done it years ago when the federal court first pointed out the deficiencies in the way the state is funding education for English learners. The success of these kids will help determine Arizona's future.

Napolitano: Veto this mess.

Lawmakers: Put together a real, bipartisan solution.

This needs to be done right.

And it needs to be done right now.