Ariz racking up court fines over schools
Associated Press
Feb 19, 2006

PHOENIX (AP) -- Roughly six years after a federal judge ordered Arizona's governor and lawmakers to improve programs for students learning English, the two sides are at a potentially expensive impasse.

Since Jan. 25, the U.S. District Court here has fined the state $500,000 each day the sides do not reach an agreement. The bill is already $12 million. But whether the state will actually pay - and even where the money would go - is still unclear.

Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano asked U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins to order the state to hand the fine money over to public schools to benefit approximately 150,000 students learning English.

Most in the program are Spanish-speakers - including many U.S. citizens who are the children of Mexican immigrants - but others include Native Americans.

"Our work force has to be an English-speaking work force ... and that takes resources and until the Legislature is ready to put those resources in, we're going to be far apart," she said last week.

Republican leaders have objected, urging Collins to let the state keep the accumulating fines and use them to implement whatever plan is eventually approved.

And they're critical of Napolitano's recent vetoes that have kept Republican-drafted, Legislature-approved English language bills from reaching Collins so he can rule on their adequacy.

"She's playing judge and governor," said Republican Senate President Ken Bennett.

Napolitano wants to triple the extra $360 in state funding that schools get for each student learning English. Republicans want to scrap that approach and instead provide schools with money based on actual costs for state-approved instruction models, and reduce those funds as districts get money from other sources.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 1992, was decided in 2000. A federal judge ruled the state's English language instruction programs violate federal laws requiring equal education opportunities for all students and were inadequately funded, in such areas as teacher training, class size and instructional materials.

The Legislature approved an interim funding increase in 2001 but missed several court deadlines for further action.

In December, Collins issued an order imposing the daily fines, which would rise to $1 million on Feb. 24.

Some educators are frustrated.

"This shouldn't be happening," said Enrique Gonzales, a Phoenix elementary school principal. "The Legislature has just been dragging their feet. Now it's 2006. Fourteen years later, and we're still in the same situation."


Associated Press reporter Amanda Myers contributed to this report.