English-learner plan is rejected
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 1, 2006


GOP leaders: Napolitano's idea costly

Chip Scutari and Robbie Sherwood

Gov. Janet Napolitano unveiled a revised plan Tuesday that she hoped would snap a stalemate over how the state should educate children who struggle to learn the English language.

Top Republicans quickly rejected the compromise, saying Napolitano's proposal still would spend too much money without real accountability.

Meanwhile, the state continues to be fined $500,000 a day for failing to meet last week's court-ordered deadline for a plan to pay for English-learners instruction. The fines have added up to $4 million.

Some of the key points of Napolitano's plan include the following:

 It would spend $1 million for an outside expert to do a cost study that would determine how much to spend on English-learner programs.

 It would create an English Language Acquisition Fund that would let the public see what the schools are spending their money on, how much they're spending and what their results are.

 It would still spend about $45 million this year and eventually grow to about $185 million, the same amount she proposed last summer.

Senate President Ken Bennett and House Speaker Jim Weiers criticized Napolitano's plan as "more of the same." They said it incorporates insignificant portions of their twice-vetoed proposal and still spends too much money with "no accountability."

Bennett said the lawmakers would present Napolitano with a counterproposal but were unlikely to bend much.

"You can't take a few parts off of a Jaguar and put them on a Yugo and claim that you now have a Jaguar," said Bennett, R-Prescott. "If we're going to move at this snail's pace of progress, we may never get there."

The longer the process takes, however, the more money from fines could go to pay for English-learner instruction programs. U.S. District Judge Raner Collins last week ordered that the fines be set aside to pay for English language learning programs. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has asked that the judge put the money in escrow to be used for whatever program gets adopted.

Earlier last week, Napolitano vetoed two Republican English-learner bills because they contained corporate tuition-tax credits for private-school scholarships, which could divert millions of dollars from public schools into private schools.

Mike Haener, Napolitano's legislative lobbyist, said the governor's new proposal would let taxpayers see how much is being spent on the English-learner programs.

"Schools need to be able to budget for the number of (English-learner) students they have," Haener said.

GOP leaders said Napolitano's plan is not a compromise because it still spends taxpayer dollars in an "arbitrary and capricious" way without reforming how English-learner programs are created. 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 it 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.

Weiers said Napolitano's proposal was irresponsible to taxpayers and that he's unwilling to change the structure of the Republican proposal.

The 1992 case Flores vs. Arizona found that state funding wasn't enough to ensure that students overcame language barriers. In a 2000 ruling, a federal judge wrote that there were too many students in a classroom, not enough qualified teachers and aides and insufficient materials.

Napolitano's strategy is to more than triple the $360 extra now spent on each English-language learner. 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.

Napolitano also gave Republicans a plan that would spend $5 million a year on corporate tuition-tax credits for English-language learners who want to attend private schools.

Sen. Robert Blendu, a Litchfield Park Republican, said he is optimistic despite all the partisan squabbles.

"I still believe there is a compromise on the horizon," Blendu said. "We're bound to teach these kids because it helps all of us."


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