Judge starts meter on $500K/day fine
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX — A federal judge on Thursday ordered the state to start paying its $500,000-a-day fines for missing the deadline to finance English learner programs into a special fund to benefit those students, rather than to the court.
But how the money will be spent — and who gets to divide it up — won't be decided for at least a few days.
U.S. District Judge Raner Collins acceded to requests by attorneys for both the state and the state school superintendent that the penalties not be forfeited to the federal treasury.
His order came over the protests of House Speaker Jim Weiers.
In a letter to the judge Thursday, Weiers objected to the request by Jose Cárdenas, attorney for the state, to divide the fines among school districts based on the number of students classified as "English language learners." He said that would bypass the power of the Legislature to appropriate state funds.
But Tim Hogan, who represents the parents who sued the state in 1992, said those fines are no longer state dollars but a court-assessed penalty against the state.
Weiers asked that Thursday's hearing be delayed until he could get an attorney.
Collins refused but gave all interested parties, including Weiers, until 5 p.m. Tuesday to suggest how they think the money that accumulates in the account should be divided.
The state became liable for the payments after failing to meet a Tuesday deadline to come up with an acceptable financing plan. That followed prior rulings concluding the state was violating federal laws requiring that all students be taught English.
With no possibility of a deal before lawmakers reconvene Monday, there will be at least $3 million in the account.
Cárdenas' plan, proposed by Gov. Janet Napolitano, also drew objections from state schools superintendent Tom Horne.
Eric Bistrow, his lawyer, agreed the money should be put into a special account. But Horne wants the money left untouched until there is a final deal on how best to fund English-learner programs in the future.