Just do it!
Arizona Republic
Dec. 21, 2005

Arizona's English-learner ruling is more opportunity for future than ultimatum

Arizona is under a 6-year-old court order to improve education for English-language learners and a week-old court order to do it now.

U.S. District Judge Raner Collins says Arizona has to pass a law to fix this long-standing problem or begin paying $500,000 a day by the end of January. The penalty will increase to $2 million a day if the Legislature adjourns the upcoming session without an acceptable plan.

If politicians see this as an opportunity instead of an ultimatum, Arizona can begin moving toward a better future. The judge told them how.

Wrote Collins: "Whether or not the legislative or executive branch is right or wrong and whether or not either has acted in good faith is of no moment."

In other words, just do it.

Do it for all the thousands of children who have started school since the original ruling was handed down. Do it for the English-language learners in high school; the judge said they don't have to take the AIMS test because the state has not properly prepared them to face a high-stakes graduation test.

Do it for the more than 150,000 children in the state who need to learn English before they can learn anything else. Arizona's future will be brighter if these children are properly educated.

Some want to shift the discussion onto whether some of these children are undocumented immigrants or are the American-born children of undocumented immigrants. It doesn't matter.

The Supreme Court said in the 1982 Plyler vs. Doe case that all children living here have a right to a free public education regardless of whether they or their parents are undocumented. That's the law.

Common sense says educating these children is in Arizona's best interest because they are likely to remain here, especially if they are citizens by birth. Common decency says that even if they are the undocumented children of undocumented workers, the state is better off educating them than driving them deep into shadows where they can become the prey of criminals or criminal predators themselves.

Besides, it is erroneous to assume that every child who speaks only Spanish is a product of illegal immigration. A survey earlier this year by Behavior Research Center found that people thought 39 percent of Arizona Hispanics are undocumented, but census figures say only 24 percent are non-citizens, and that number includes legal residents. Those surveyed also underestimated how many Hispanics are native-born U.S. citizens.

The heated rhetoric about illegal immigration tends to distort things.

What's needed is cool logic.

The original 2000 court ruling listed a number of problems with the way English-language learners are being taught, including crowded classrooms, a lack of qualified teachers and inadequate materials.

Lawmakers passed a bill last year that Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed as inadequate.

Legislative leadership suggests lawmakers will send her a bill in January that looks a lot like the one she rejected. They want the judge to decide whether it's good enough.

But Tim Hogan, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, says the approach outlined in that last session's bill will not remedy the deficiencies. If that approach becomes law, his objections would send the case back to the courts in a process that could take a year or more. Meanwhile, children would be entering classrooms that don't serve their needs.

Arizona doesn't need to keep reliving the past. Lawmakers and the governor need to work together to come up with a plan that will not have to go back to court because it clearly satisfies the needs of students. Make it a public process so people can see who is being reasonable and who isn't.

This is an opportunity to improve Arizona's future.