Governor Latino, leaders to talk English-learner funding Napolitano, lawmakers under order by judge to devise plan by next week
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 20, 2006

Chip Scutari
Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano will huddle today in her office with a group of Latino leaders to take their pulse on the politically charged issue of funding for Arizona students who struggle to learn English.

The afternoon meeting is timely. U.S. District Judge Raner Collins has ordered lawmakers and Napolitano to come up with a financial plan by early next week to help educate English-language learners or be fined $500,000 a day. The penalty could rise to $2 million a day if they fail to act. The December ruling is the latest in a class-action lawsuit, Flores vs. Arizona, that was filed on behalf of a Nogales family in 1992.

"It's an opportunity to ask questions and get answers regarding the Flores case," said Jeanine L'Ecuyer, Napolitano's spokeswoman. "It will include leaders from all facets of the Latino community and other parts of the community. Let me be abundantly clear: It's about Flores and nothing else."

More than 150,000 students in Arizona speak foreign languages, mostly Spanish, and are struggling to learn English. The situation is believed to be a main reason for Arizona's high dropout rate, as well as the inability of many of the children to adjust to life in Arizona. Administrators in school districts with large immigrant populations have said they would use the extra money to shrink the size of classes, update materials and equipment, provide more individual instruction, and better train teachers.

Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox,who will be at today's meeting, said she was invited by Alan Stephens, one of Napolitano's top aides.

"I assume it's about her position on it and everything," Wilcox said. "She wants to keep us informed and get our thoughts."

Latino leaders, legislators and the Hispanic Community Forum, which met last week to discuss Napolitano's illegal-immigration-related proposals, said the Flores case and the governor's $100 million border-security plan are top priorities for their agenda. Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said the Latino Caucus at the Capitol wants to make sure Napolitano vetoes a Republican-backed bill that could wind up on her desk as early as Monday.

"No one from the Latino Caucus has been invited," said Gallardo of the 18-member, all Democrat group. "We don't know why."

Rep. Ben Miranda, a Phoenix Democrat, said Napolitano must realize the importance of the English-learner issue for the Latino community.

"She has misjudged the reaction from the Latino community on this," said Miranda, who was not invited to the meeting. "I'm sure the people at the meeting will let her know that this is a huge issue for us. The funding that has been proposed is inadequate."

Napolitano and Republican legislative leaders have been at a bitter impasse over how to deal with the judge's orders. Talks between the two sides once again broke down this week. Republicans want a grant-funded program for schools. Napolitano's plan, unveiled over the summer, would spend about $45 million this year and eventually spend up to $185 million a year.

Community leader Luis Ibarra is out of town today, but was invited to the meeting.

"She's probably got her own agenda and she wants to discuss it," said Ibarra, president and chief executive officer of Friendly House, a non-profit organization that works with mostly immigrants.

Republic reporter Yvonne Wingett contributed to this article.