Federal judge tells stingy politicians, again, 'Sí, yo puedo'
Arizona Republic
Apr. 27, 2006

Some of you might look at all of the time and money that state legislators have wasted on trying not to provide adequate funding for Arizona schoolchildren who need to learn English and say, "Boy, they must really hate those kids."

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The people running the show at the state Legislature don't hate Spanish-speaking children. They hate the parents of such children.

At least they pretend to hate them. Perhaps because hating the parents of kids struggling to learn English is one of the best things they've got going for themselves, politically. Instead of blaming the problems of our state and our nation on the men and women who have been passing the laws and spending the taxes for all these years - in other words, themselves - our politicians have successfully shifted the blame onto a group of individuals who don't vote, have no power and who can't defend themselves in a language that most voters understand.

On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected the latest English-learner spending plan as inadequate. It was only the most recent time in the past 14 years that courts have ruled against our legislators.

It was back in 1992 when a group of parents from Nogales filed a lawsuit against the state claiming that Arizona's public schools didn't do enough to teach English to children who were not yet proficient. Lawyers at the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest won that case in 2000, but the people we've elected to office have continued to fight it, trying to shift responsibility for their failures onto "do-gooders" at the center or onto "activist" judges, which is the label given to any judge who happens to rule against them.

The latest is U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins, who issued the latest decision in the case. Gov. Janet Napolitano had rejected the Legislature's early proposals for English-learner funding, saying that they were inadequate. She finally gave in and tossed the ball to the judge's court by passing along a plan that she still believed to be inadequate. And it was.

Still, each time a judge rules against them, our politicians step forward to condemn him and then try to find way of saying that a judge can't force them to do anything. In this instance, the judge's ruling can be summed up with a variation of the rallying cry currently used by immigration advocates: "Sí, yo puedo." (Yes, I can.)

The Republicans controlling the Legislature along with state School Superintendent Tom Horne disagree with that view, however. They want to continue the fight, as they have all these years. But that's not what Tim Hogan of the Center for Law in the Public Interest hopes will happen.

"The real issue here is whether or not the Legislature is going to take this up and get something done while budget discussions are going on," he told me Wednesday. "What we need is a plan that is actually going to help these kids. It's not like they are disappearing anytime soon. The politicians can talk all they want about deporting 11 million people, but that is not happening. And the vast majority of these kids are American citizens anyway."

We should have started tracking these children in 1992, when the state first decided that funding a long court case was a better use of our money than preparing students to succeed in life and stay off government assistance and out of prison.

Because the irony of our situation - or the stupidity - is that by not paying for undereducated kids, we'll pay even more for undereducated adults.

Reach Montini at (602) 444-8978 or ed.montini@arizonarepublic.com. Read his
blog at montiniblog.azcentral.com.