Judge gives Napolitano victory with ruling on English-learners
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 27, 2006
In a victory for Gov. Janet Napolitano, a federal judge ruled Thursday that the
state must deposit $500,000-a-day fines for missing an English-learners deadline
into a special fund to help those children master English-language skills.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Raner Collins could translate into millions
of dollars more for students.
It also gives Napolitano the upper hand in further negotiations over how best to
meet the needs of about 154,000 children with English deficiencies.
Republican lawmakers criticized the judge's decision, saying it "tied their
hands in negotiations" with Napolitano. She had vetoed two Republican proposals
earlier in the week, both of which would have set aside substantially less money
for English-learners than Napolitano wanted.
"He took our ability to negotiate away," said Rep. Bill Konopnicki, a Safford
Republican. "Now, the governor can wait until she gets enough money in the fund
until she agrees to any bill we send to her. The judge has really changed the
dynamics of the negotiations."
Sen. Thayer Verschoor, a Gilbert conservative, was even more critical.
"I guess he just decided who the winner was," said Verschoor, R-Gilbert. "She
gets all the money she wants and more. The judge is appropriating funds that he
has no right to appropriate."
Collins' order essentially agreed with what Napolitano had proposed earlier this
week: Put the fines into a special fund so the students who are directly
affected reap the rewards of a political stalemate. Collins gave authorities
until Tuesday to come up with a plan to distribute the money, which would come
from the state's General Fund. Napolitano praised the ruling.
"I am pleased with the judge's decision to allow the fines to be used solely for
the education of ELL (English-language learner) students," Napolitano said in a
written statement. "Our children need to be highly educated and able to read,
write and speak in English, so they can become a strong and viable workforce for
Lawmakers said they will return Monday to resume their effort to fulfill the
court's mandate. The fines began to accrue Wednesday after Napolitano and the
Legislature missed Collins' deadline to come up with a plan to pay for
English-learner instruction. Ruling in a case originally filed 14 years ago, the
judge had called the state's spending on the children inadequate.
Attorneys representing the state and Arizona School Superintendent Tom Horne
will submit proposals by Tuesday night to Collins, suggesting how the fines
should be distributed across the state.
The judge's ruling ended a dizzying week of back-and-forth battles between
Napolitano and legislative leaders on an emotional issue involving students who
speak foreign languages, mostly Spanish, and are struggling to learn English.
Arizona has been under a federal court order for six years in the
After rejecting the Republicans' first bill this week, Napolitano had Arizona
Attorney General Terry Goddard file a court brief asking Collins to direct the
fines to the state Department of Education so the money could eventually be used
to help English-learners.
Fines to mount
As lawmakers and Napolitano try to reach a compromise, the fines will continue
to grow. The $500,000-a-day fines will continue for about another 30 days. If
there's still no progress, the fine grows to $1.5 million through the end of the
session, totaling $77.5 million. If lawmakers adjourn with no plan, the fine
rises to $2 million a day and continues indefinitely.
The political and legal wrangling stems from the 1992 case Flores vs. Arizona,
which found that existing funding wasn't enough to ensure that students overcame
language barriers. The case is an extension of the Equal Education Opportunity
Act of 1974, a federal law that prohibits states from denying education
opportunities based on race, color, sex or national origin.
GOP leaders on Thursday said they will hire a separate legal counsel to defend
them in the Flores case. House Speaker Jim Weiers wrote to Collins to blame
Napolitano's vetoes for the state missing the deadline set by Collins.
"The Legislature has passed two bills in the first 15 days of the legislative
session designed to comply with the orders in this case," Weiers wrote. "The
governor's vetoes are the cause of the state's failure to comply with our
The governor and legislators remain far apart on how much Arizona should spend
on instruction for the more than 150,000 children in Arizona whose English
skills are deficient. Napolitano favors a plan that would more than triple the
$360 extra now spent on each English-learner. It would eventually cost $180
million a year.
The vetoed Republican plan would increase spending by $31 million for one year
but would then become a grant program with no known price tag because schools
would first have to devote existing federal funds to the programs before they
could ask for state help. Arizona currently spends about $55 million on
Democratic Rep. Phil Lopes said he was not optimistic the two sides would soon
"On a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being highly optimistic: 3," the Tucson lawmaker
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