Capitol Media Services
By Howard Fischer
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/117360
PHOENIX — Republican senators approved yet another plan Thursday to finance English instruction — dropping demands that businesses be allowed to divert some of their state taxes to provide scholarships for English-language learners to attend private or parochial schools.
The bill boosts state aid from the current $355 per student to $432 for each of the more than 150,000 English learners eligible for help.
Democrats, who voted unanimously to oppose the measure, want at least $667 per student.
Except for those changes, the legislation approved on a 16-14 vote is similar to what Republicans have proposed — and Gov. Janet Napolitano has vetoed — twice since the beginning of the year.
It includes requirements for schools to use "structured English immersion'' methods that have been approved by a task force. And it spells out that schools can get extra funding for students classified as English-language learners for only two years.
The changes came over the objection of several Republicans.
"We continue to throw money at a failed system,'' said Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, one of two members of the GOP who bolted party unity and sided with Democrats in opposition to the bill.
The vote comes as the state today begins paying fines of $1 million a day for failing to comply with a federal court order to have a funding scheme in place by last month. Until now the fines of $500,000 a day have accumulated to $15 million.
Senate Minority Leader Linda Aguirre also objected to the two-year time limit on the extra funding, questioning what happens if a student is not proficient in that time.
That is not just an academic question: Attorney Tim Hogan, who represents parents who brought the original federal lawsuit against the state, said it takes an average of 3.3 years for a youngster who speaks another language to master English.
Aguirre also objected to the "poison pill'' in the bill. It says if U.S. District Judge Raner Collins rejects this measure as insufficient to comply with federal law, then all funding, including the current $355 per student, will be eliminated.
The debate stems from a 2000 court ruling that Arizona is not complying with federal laws that require states to ensure that all students learn English.
The Legislature has since boosted funding from $150 extra per student to the current $355. But Collins ruled there was no evidence that that amount is adequate.