Just do it!
Dec. 21, 2005
Arizona's English-learner ruling is more opportunity for future than
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
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
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.