English bill OK'd in Senate, hits snag in House
Associated Press
Feb. 23, 2006

The state Senate on Thursday narrowly approved a new Republican bill on revamp programs for the instruction of students learning English. But the House then delayed action further action until next week so the measure can be rewritten to make it harder for Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano to make major changes.

The bill, approved 16-14 by the Senate, is the Republican-led Legislature's latest attempt to resolve an issue that has the state accumulating daily court fines set to rise to $1 million on Friday.

Napolitano vetoed three previous versions of the Republican plan, and House Majority Leader Steve Tully told The Associated Press that lawmakers were considering possible changes to avoid opening the door for Napolitano to use her line-item veto authority to erase provisions and make the plan more to her liking.

Making changes to avoid that possibility could involve substantially rewriting the Senate-approved bill in a House-Senate conference committee or starting over with a new piece of legislation, said Tully, R-Phoenix.

Republican leaders already this session have obtained authorization from lawmakers to sue to overturn a line-item veto which Republicans said exceeded Napolitano's authority to veto appropriations.

Thursday's legislative action came the day after the latest round of negotiations between legislative leaders and Napolitano ended without agreement and one day before court fines that began Jan. 25 at $500,000 rise to $1 million.

Napolitano vetoed the initial version of the plan last May and cast two more vetoes of revised versions in January.

The latest version has changes that include the omission of a school-choice provision that was in the January bills. The provision would have given businesses an income tax credit for donations for private school tuition grants for students learning English.

Napolitano has criticized other parts of the Republicans' evolving plan in addition to the tax credit, and has said she won't decide what to do with the latest version until it hits her desk and she can study it. She had called the tax break a costly distraction unrelated to improving English Language Learning programs in public schools.

The state has accumulated $15 million in daily $500,000 fines under a court order aimed at compelling compliance with a federal law requiring equal opportunities in education. The daily fine rises to $1 million on Friday, and further noncompliance would push it to $1.5 million 30 days later and $2 million at the end of the current session.

Key elements of the Republican plan for approximately 150,000 students learning English include increasing per-student funding to $432 from the current $355, requiring school districts to use state-approved instruction models aimed at exiting students after a year and limiting funding for each child to two years.

The continued reliance on per-student funding, which would be augmented by additional state dollars to help pay for actual costs of implementing the models, represents a concession by Republicans. They had wanted to move entirely to a plan that pays districts and charter schools for the actual costs of implementing the models.

Republicans say their plan would increase accountability and remove incentives for poor performance. The current approach provides schools with money only if children don't succeed, said Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler.
"It's just directly a penalty for success and a reward for failure," he said.

The state now provides districts and charter schools with $66 million, and the Republican plan would provide increase that amount by $34 million in the next fiscal year for school programs and state oversight.

However, costs in future years wouldn't be known until models are approved and their implementation costs calculated.

Napolitano initially wanted to triple the current $355 per student funding over three years, but she and legislative Democrats offered to accept a one-step increase to $667 per student with additional money above that for actual costs of implementing the models.

A lawyer for class-action plaintiffs whose lawsuit forced the state to act said Napolitano should veto it. The plan provides inadequate funding, is unrealistic because most students take at least three years to learn English and because elements conflict with federal law, attorney Tim Hogan said.


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Arizona Legislature: http://www.azleg.gov