2nd veto blocks English-learner funding attempt
Capitol Media Services

 by Howard Fischer

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/113082

PHOENIX Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed an English-learner funding bill Wednesday for the second time in two days, saying the Republican plan still falls short of what is needed to resolve a 14-year-old lawsuit.
In her veto letter, Napolitano cited a series of what she said are technical, wording and legal flaws in the measure sent to her less than 12 hours earlier. These mainly relate to provisions added by Republicans to provide state tax credits to help students classified as "English language learners" go to private and parochial schools.
But Napolitano also made it clear that she would have vetoed the measure even without those flaws. She said the underlying GOP funding scheme "is inadequate to meet the court's order."
That brought an angry reaction from House Speaker Jim Weiers, who said it is up to U.S. District Judge Raner Collins to decide what is necessary, not the governor. He pointed out the governor's back-to-back vetoes keep Collins from even getting a chance to examine the Republican plan.
The new veto means Arizona missed the midnight Tuesday deadline set by Collins to adopt an adequate funding plan to teach English. But it remains unclear when the state will have to start paying the $500,000-a-day fines, or even to whom they will be paid.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Terry Goddard petitioned Collins to let the state treasurer pay the money on a daily basis to the Department of Education, which, in turn, would divide it among school districts based on the number of English-language learners.
That would mean $26,800 a day for Tucson Unified School District, which has the largest percentage of the more than 150,000 ELL students in the state, and $25,600 for Mesa Unified School District.
But Weiers and Senate President Ken Bennett said that would be illegal, saying they might hire an attorney to stop it from happening.
The chances of quick resolution appear to be fading as both sides are taking hard-line positions and accusing each other of refusing to negotiate.
"She wasn't elected dictator," complained Weiers. "She's saying, 'This is what I want and if I don't get what I want, then I'm going to blame you for all the things that are wrong.' "
Napolitano called his comments "inappropriate" and "not accurate." She said the Republican-controlled Legislature "is not focused on children and classrooms that are the subject of our federal court requirements."
Bennett said Republicans will not boost funding to public schools to teach English unless there also is additional funding to help those parents who believe their youngsters would do better in private or parochial schools.
But Napolitano said legislators whose districts include a large number of ELL students mostly Democrats believe tax credits for non-public schools are not an answer. Part of it is practical, she said. Eligible students can't get transportation to private schools and there are few of those schools in rural areas.
"A vast majority of these children are in public schools or in charter schools, which are also public schools," she said.
Napolitano favors boosting annual state support for English-learners from $355 a student to near $1,300.
The GOP plan provides a small boost in funding for one year but then would require schools to use one of a list of acceptable teaching methods, compute the cost, identify other funds already available and then seek the balance from the Department of Education.
Weiers said the governor's plan simply amounts to putting more money into a system with no proof that's what is needed, or even whether students are learning anything. He said students spend years in school programs without ever testing as proficient.
Napolitano, however, said all the evidence shows more money is needed. She said the battle is about "the Legislature's consistent failure to listen to parents and families and educators who want their kids to learn English as quickly as possible, and what that requires in the classroom to accomplish that."