Governor, GOP clash again on English proposal
Associated Press
Feb. 8, 2006

Republican legislative leaders on Wednesday attacked Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano's latest proposal to revamp programs for students learning the English language.

The leaders said a two-word change would put the state on a costly and unfair course to ensure that English-learning students pass the AIMS test, but not give a corresponding boost to students who already speak English.

Napolitano's office denied that the wording change would have that effect, and she criticized Republicans for failing to match her new proposal with one of their own to help end a stalemate that has the state accumulating daily $500,000 fines - a total of $7.5 million through Wednesday.

"I can't compromise with myself," Napolitano said. "They've got to come to the table."

A federal court has ruled that the state's current programs for approximately 150,000 English Language Learning students violate a federal law requiring equal opportunities in education, falling short in such areas as teacher training, class size and instructional material.

Napolitano has vetoed three Republican bills, one last May and two in January, that would scrap the state's current approach of providing public schools with extra dollars for each ELL student and instead provide money based on reported actual costs for instruction under state-approved models.

Republicans have refused to consider the governor's proposal. It is based on keeping the current approach but tripling the funding, and she objects to their inclusion of a new corporate income tax credit for business donations for private school tuition grants.

House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, and Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Phoenix, raised concerns about draft legislation released Tuesday by Napolitano, saying it would place new burdens on the state to help ELL students but not others.

Weiers and Bennett pointed to new wording that would allow money in a proposed ELL fund to be used only for teaching English-learners to read, write and speak English and "to master" academic standards adopted by the state Board of Education."

The addition of the words "to master" would mean that the state would guarantee both that ELL students attain proficiency in the academic standards measured by the AIMS test and also pass the math, reading and writing test itself, the GOP leaders said.

"There's no special fund anywhere in the K-12 system that gives that type of guarantee or special funding for the other 85 percent of the students,"
Bennett said.

"She is making changes but she is not going forward," Weiers said. "She is literally going backwards."

Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer said the legislators' interpretation is wrong and that the language reflects a voter-approved preference in state law for placing English-learning students in immersion programs in which academic subjects are taught nearly all in English.

"These are just red herrings," L'Ecuyer said of the Republicans' criticism.

A Democratic legislator who sponsored bills to formally introduce Napolitano's previous proposal said the GOP leaders apparently mistook what amounts to a goal statement for a mandate.

"They're reading too much into it," said Rep. David Lujan, D-Phoenix. "This is just to bring English-learners up the same level of the other students."


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