House OKs new bill on English learning
Feb. 27, 2006
The House on Monday approved the latest Republican bill to revamp programs for
students learning the English language after GOP leaders rewrote it to avoid
inadvertently giving Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano leeway to increase its
Democratic representatives who voted against the bill said it doesn't do enough,
while some Republicans who ultimately voted for it expressed concern that the
ultimate price tag remains open-ended.
The work is an attempt to satisfy a federal judge whose daily fines against the
state have risen to $1 million. Napolitano has vetoed three previous bills
passed by the Republican-led Legislature, one last May and two in January.
The House's 31-27 vote sent the bill to the Senate, with seven House Republicans
joining 20 Democrats in voting against it.
Senate approval would send the bill to Napolitano, but that chamber's vote could
be delayed past Tuesday because supporters have no votes to spare and one
senator was ill Monday.
The bill (HB2064) approved by the House was changed from a version approved
Thursday by the Senate but then put on hold when supporters belatedly realized
that Napolitano could use her line-item veto authority to increase funding for
English Language Learning programs.
The bill would increase per-student supplemental funding for ELL programs to
$432 from $355. But it would also allow additional dollars depending on the
costs for schools to implement new state-approved instruction models, with
subtractions or partial subtractions for certain types of funding from federal
education programs, dollars received in lieu of property taxes and local tax
dollars levied for desegregation programs.
It also would impose a two-year limit on funding for individual children.
Napolitano wants to increase the minimum per-student funding to $667, and one
change endorsed by the conference committee was intended to remove the
possibility that she could add spending by using her line-item veto.
Instead of replacing existing per-student funding with a different but larger
stream of dollars, the change would keep the existing funding formula and add
dollars to it.
Otherwise, Republicans acknowledged, Napolitano could have vetoed the original
version's repeal of the existing funding and left intact the new replacement
funding intended to replace it. That would have the effect of roughly doubling
A half-dozen Democrats rose during Monday's House floor vote to denounce the
bill as an embarrassment that is sure to be rejected by the judge if Napolitano
doesn't veto it.
"I really believe the federal judge will send this back in no time flat,"
said Rep. Pete Rios, D-Hayden.
Earlier, several Republicans expressed concern that the models' costs aren't yet
known, with Republican Rep. John Allen of Scottsdale citing unanticipated costs
from the 2000 expansion of subsidies for alternative-fuel vehicles.
That program had a projected cost of $650 million, instead of the envisioned
$5 million to $10 million, before lawmakers scaled back the program. Costs still
reached $125 million.
"I do have concern that we keep making the same mistakes and then blaming
someone else for it," Allen said.
House Majority Whip Gary Pierce, R-Mesa, acknowledged that eventual costs won't
be known until the models are approved and implemented.
But he said the state has no choice because the federal court has ruled that the
state can't impose "arbitrary and capricious" funding formulas.
The Republicans' plan would provide $80 million in per-student aid, up from
$66 million currently.
The amount of daily fines being imposed by U.S. District Judge Raner C.
Collins in Tucson doubled on Friday to $1 million, and reached an accumulated
total of $19 million on Monday. The daily fines will increase to
$1.5 million daily later this month and $2 million at the end of the legislative
session if the issue remains unresolved.
The fines began Jan. 25 when the state missed a deadline set by Collins.
Another judge ruled in 2000 that the state's ELL programs don't comply with a
federal law requiring equal opportunities in education because of inadequate
funding that has produced shortfalls in such areas as teacher training,
instructional material and class sizes.