English-learner fines begin
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 26, 2006
Napolitano rejects 2nd Republican plan
Chip Scutari and Robbie Sherwood
Arizona became liable Wednesday for fines of $500,000 a day after Gov. Janet
Napolitano rejected the latest Republican plan to pay for improved instruction
for thousands of Arizona schoolchildren struggling to learn English.
It was the second day in a row that the Democratic governor vetoed a
Republican-backed plan to help English-learners in public schools. This time,
the court-ordered deadline passed without another legislative attempt to revise
Napolitano said she rejected the plan because it contained corporate tuition-tax
credits for private-school scholarships, which could divert millions of dollars
from public schools into private schools.
"I regret that the Legislature is not focused on children and classrooms that
are the subject of our federal court requirements," Napolitano said.
The governor and legislators also remained far apart on how much Arizona should
spend on instruction for the more than 150,000 children in Arizona whose English
skills are deficient.
Napolitano favors a plan that would more than triple the $360 extra now spent on
each English-language learner. It would eventually cost $180 million a year. The
vetoed Republican plan would increase spending by $31 million for one year but
would then become a grant program with no known price tag because schools would
first have to devote existing federal funds to the programs before they could
ask for state help.
U.S. District Judge Raner Collins ordered fines of $500,000 a day in December if
lawmakers failed to act by Wednesday. Those fines could grow to
$2 million a day if this year's legislative session ends with no further
Just how the fines would be collected and where the money would go remained
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard filed a court brief Wednesday asking
Collins to direct the fines to the state Department of Education so the money
could eventually be used to help English-learners. Tim Hogan of the Center for
Law in the Public Interest, whose suit brought the sanctions, echoed Goddard's
request. They cited decisions in other federal court cases where fines were used
to help "the aggrieved parties."
Officials in the judge's office said they were prohibited from commenting on a
Meanwhile, state Treasurer David Petersen said he doesn't believe he has the
authority to pay the fines. He said it takes a majority vote of the Legislature,
signed by the governor, for him to spend state money. The state has enough money
to pay the fines, but lawmakers would have to pass a bill to do it, he said.
Hogan called Petersen's position a "silly" and "circular" argument. Hogan said
that the fines are self-executing and that federal judges have broad authority
to enforce their orders.
"Did the treasurer consult with his attorneys before deciding not to comply with
a court order?" Hogan said. "Nobody is going to agree to fine themselves. That's
the nature of fines. I'm sure the judge is going to do whatever he needs to do."
With the $500,000 daily fines believed to be accruing, state officials were
scrambling to research how the sanctions would be enforced. Judge Collins
provided no clues in his court order. Officials in Goddard's office said they
could not comment on legal advice because of attorney-client privilege.
Goddard believes the fines won't be collected daily but would rather accumulate
like fines on "an overdue library book," spokeswoman Andrea Esquer said.
"You don't come down and pay 25 cents a day," Esquer said. "When you return the
book, then you pay the bill."
After Napolitano's first veto on Tuesday, lawmakers worked into the night to
respond. Republicans capped the unlimited tuition-tax credit plan at $50
million, but Napolitano has made it clear that she does not want tax credits in
any English-learner bill. After the veto, Napolitano and Republican legislative
leaders each pointed fingers at the other for the fines.
House Speaker Jim Weiers and Senate President Ken Bennett accused Napolitano of
refusing to let the court review their proposed grant plan.
"This is because of her doing, not because of ours," Weiers, R-Phoenix, said of
the fines. "She was elected governor, she wasn't elected dictator."
Of the "dictator" comment, Napolitano said, "that kind of language is
inappropriate and not accurate."
'Flores vs. Arizona'
The 1992 case Flores vs. Arizona has prompted the legislative drama. It found
that current funding wasn't enough to ensure that students overcame language
barriers. The case is an extension of the Equal Education Opportunity Act of
1974, a federal law that prohibits states from denying education opportunities
based on race, color, sex or national origin.
In a 2000 ruling, a federal judge wrote that there were too many students in a
classroom, not enough qualified teachers and teacher aides, and insufficient
teaching materials to help students learn English.
About 154,000 students in Arizona speak foreign languages, mostly Spanish, and
are struggling to learn English. That has contributed to Arizona's high dropout
rate and sparked a class-action lawsuit 14 years ago. Administrators in school
districts with large immigrant populations have said they need extra money to
shrink the size of classes, update materials and equipment, provide individual
instruction and better train teachers.
No easy answers
Lawmakers are finding that there aren't any easy answers to solve this issue.
Unlike allocating money for breakfast programs or algebra textbooks, teaching
language skills varies from city to city.
The Republican plan would spend an additional $31 million next year on
English-learner programs, though more than $7 million of that is for
administrative expenses, testing and auditing. Arizona already spends about $55
million, or about $360 per English-learner.
But after one year, schools would have to apply for state grants for
English-language programs and only after they had applied any federal education
funding they were receiving to address the problem. The grant requests could be
rejected by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and lawmakers if the
schools are judged to be not spending enough of their federal education and
desegregation dollars on English-language programs.
Republican leaders, so far, have refused to consider Napolitano's plan because
they believe it spends too much and is not based on a credible cost study.
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