English measure avoids veto
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 4, 2006

Governor will let judge review legislators' plan

Robbie Sherwood and Chip Scutari
Despite strong objections from Gov. Janet Napolitano, a federal judge who is fining Arizona $1 million a day will finally get to review a Republican-backed plan to improve instruction for Arizona students struggling to learn English.

Napolitano said Friday that she will let House Bill 2064 go into law without her signature even though she believes the plan spends far too little and has other flaws that could make it illegal.

Schools will get some immediate help under the plan to begin training teachers, shrinking the number of students per classroom and tutoring students. But the full cost and impact of the measure won't be known for at least two years when schools apply for grants after they know how much it really costs them to educate English-learners.

Napolitano vetoed three previous legislative plans, including two this session that included tuition tax credits for private-school scholarships.
The Republicans removed the tax credits from the plan, putting heavy pressure on Napolitano to put down her veto stamp despite serious misgivings.

The daily fines imposed by U.S. District Judge Raner Collins had reached $23 million. Though Collins has said nothing publicly, Napolitano said the court order made it clear the fines stopped on Thursday when lawmakers sent her the bill.

"If I'd thought a fourth veto would have moved the Legislature further in my direction, then I would have vetoed the bill a fourth time," Napolitano said. "But after nine months and three vetoes, I felt I'd moved them as far as I could. Now, it's time for the court to intervene."

Napolitano also said she has asked Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard to request that Collins make a speedy decision and ensure that the fines be directed back into English-learner programs. Goddard is reviewing the bill and did not say if he would express the same objections as Napolitano.

Earlier this year, Collins ruled that the fines would be directed to English-learner programs, but he had not decided whether the money would be immediately directed to the classrooms or held back until lawmakers and Napolitano reached a deal.

The Senate narrowly approved HB 2064 Thursday. The Republican-backed plan would pump an additional $32 million into schools next year to shrink classroom sizes, buy teaching materials and provide tutoring. The state now spends about $358 per child on 154,000 students who are classified as English-learners, or students who speak another language and are trying to learn English. In all, Arizona spends nearly $80 million a year on English-learner programs.

Teachers and administrators say the additional funding is needed for more tutoring, textbooks and supplies to help these students catch up in school.

Rep. Tom Boone, who helped write the plan, is confident Collins will approve it and believes Napolitano should have let it go to the court last May instead of vetoing it the first time.

"I'm really pleased that the governor is allowing it to finally get to the judge so he can read it and determine whether it complies with federal law,"
said Boone, R-Phoenix, chairman of a House appropriations committee. "It's unfortunate that it's taken this long."

The Republican plan has substantially less money than what Napolitano proposed. She also criticized the bill in several other areas, saying it creates an arbitrary funding level and a new educational bureaucracy without ensuring academic accountability. She says it violates federal laws because it requires English-learner payments to school districts to be reduced by the amount of federal dollars they receive.

"More than one-quarter of the new money appropriated in this bill is for the creation of a new bureaucracy within the Department of Education rather than actual classroom education," Napolitano wrote.

House Speaker Jim Weiers and Senate President Ken Bennett took Napolitano to task for asking the judge to reject their plan, calling her arguments "trumped up" and a "poisonous and inaccurate assessment of the bill that is tantamount to urging the judge to find against the state."

School districts with English-learners are anxiously awaiting the judge's decision. Kent Parades Scribner, superintendent of the Isaac School District, works on the front lines of the language funding fight. More than 90 percent of his students come from families living below the federal poverty line, and more than half are English-learners.

"What amazes me is that the Legislature continues to fail to fund education adequately," Scribner said. "Classroom teachers tell me that the governor's program is much more in tune with reality."

Attorney Tim Hogan, who is pursuing the court case against the state, said he is disappointed Napolitano didn't veto the bill. But he applauded Napolitano's move to put the legislation on the fast track with the federal court.

"This is a bad bill," Hogan said. "We're basically in the same situation we were a year ago. We're basically still at the funding level we were five years ago. Nobody will qualify for any additional funding. The restrictions they put on getting any new funds are unlawful."