GOP has plan for English-learners
Arizona Republic
Jan. 18, 2006

Napolitano says she will review revised proposal

Staff and wire reports

Gov. Janet Napolitano received a revised Republican proposal Tuesday aimed at satisfying a federal court order and avoiding daily fines of up to $2 million by revamping the state's program for instruction of students learning English.

Napolitano said she planned to review the GOP proposal, which was introduced as new legislation Tuesday in both the House and the Senate for committee consideration today.

"It's a complicated piece of legislation," she said after an hourlong negotiating session with legislators.

Last spring, Napolitano vetoed an earlier version of the Republicans' proposal, calling it inadequate.

A federal judge ordered lawmakers in December to improve English-language learner programs during their current legislative session and ordered daily fines starting at $500,000 if the issue isn't resolved by early next week. The fines would rise by an increment to $2 million by the session's end.

The vetoed legislation would have required school districts to report their costs and to apply for state grants as needed. Republicans said that approach would provide dollars based on actual need and not an arbitrary formula. However, Napolitano and other critics said it wouldn't ensure districts adequate funding.

Last summer, Napolitano offered the alternative of adding dollars to the current approach of providing districts with a set amount of dollars based on the number of ELL students, but Republicans chose to wait for U.S. District Raner Collins' eventual ruling, which was based on a request by plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit for sanctions against the state.

Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, said Tuesday that the latest Republican proposal still would have a new state task force approve instruction models for districts to chose among, but also would include revisions intended to address concerns about the perceived lack of assured funding.

Actual costs to the state for the revamped programs won't be known until instructional models are approved and districts report their costs, Bennett said.

Also Tuesday, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne filed legal papers stating he'll appeal Collins' order to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

He said federal courts do not have jurisdiction to dictate education policy to the state.

"While it is good policy to ensure that everything is being done to teach English to English language learners as quickly as possible, this is properly a legislative function," Horne said.

Horne also filed motions asking for a reversal on Collin's AIMS decision. All seniors had to pass the high school AIMS test to graduate until last month when Collins exempted the 4,500 English learners in the Class of 2006.

Horne asked the U.S. District Court to quickly reinstate the requirement for all students.

It's unlikely the judge will change his mind, but Horne said his request is a formal step before he can take his argument to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Associated Press and Republic reporter Pat Kossan contributed to this article.