Arizona Republic
August 29, 2006


Republican legislative leaders shouldn't spend too much time congratulating themselves. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not vindicate their approach to educating children who do not yet speak English.

Those who oppose the Legislature's approach shouldn't put their shoulders out of whack patting themselves on the back, either.

Nobody won.

The appeals court last week merely gave Tucson U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins an "incomplete" and told him to do his homework before issuing opinions.

By rejecting Collins' decision, the appeals court threw out the $21 million in fines Collins imposed on Arizona. It also vacated his decree that students classified as English-language learners did not have to take the AIMS test to graduate.

What the appeals court did not do was rule on the adequacy of the legislative fix approved this year. It told Collins to gather evidence and make his own ruling.

So it's back to court. Again.

It's a waiting game. Again.

It is important to remember that while courts opine on Arizona's efforts to educate children who do not speak English, and politicians applaud or deplore what judges do, the education of about 160,000 Arizona children is at stake.

The issue of educating students who have to learn English before they can learn anything else drips with political implications. But at the heart, it is not about politics. It is about giving kids a fair chance to succeed.
Those kids, like it or not, will help shape Arizona's future, educated or not.

It shouldn't be too much to ask for some finality. Some direction. Some certainty that schools can take to the bank as they make lesson plans for these children.

Despite the appeals court ruling, the core dispute remains. It is about the adequacy of a legislative funding plan that Gov. Janet Napolitano did not like but allowed to become law without her signature.

The 9th Circuit ordered that those who think the plan is adequate, including state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and Republican legislative leaders, argue it out in Collins' Tucson court with those who think it is inadequate, including Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest.

The appeals court said Collins needs to take into account that "the landscape of education funding has changed significantly."

Significantly? Yes. Adequately? That's the old argument.

It was 1992 when this case first went to court. It was 2000 when a federal judge ruled that funding was inadequate and ordered a study to determine the cost to do the job right.

A Republican Legislature ordered a cost study, then rejected it. They said it was poorly done. It called for significant increases in spending.

Arizona increased funding for English-language learners from an extra $155 per student in 2000 to $358 without really knowing what the need was. This past legislative session, lawmakers authorized boosting the per pupil allowance to $432 -- again without a clear understanding of the cost to do it right.

Now lawyers will argue this out in Collins' court. Again.

Politicians and pundits will say their sides really won. Again.

And kids who need help to learn English will move through a system that does, or does not, serve their needs.


Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, whose Editorial Board consists of: Robert J. Dickey, John Zidich, Steve Benson, Patricia Biggs, Phil Boas, Ward Bushee, Richard de Uriarte, Jennifer Dokes, Jeremy Dowell, Joanna Hensley, Cindy Hernandez, Kathleen Ingley, Robert Leger, Doug MacEachern, Gary Nelson, Joel Nilsson, Dan Nowicki, Robert Robb, Bob Schuster, Linda Valdez and Ken Western.

CAPTION: English-learners and teachers in Arizona schools deserve some direction and some certainty in a case that has dragged on far too long.
CAPTION: Judge Raner Collins: He needs to do his homework before another ruling on English-learners, an appeals court said.