Kids have waited long enough
Arizona Republic
Apr. 5, 2006

The subject is children.

The setting is a courtroom in Tucson.

The stakes are as high as a student's hope for the future.

Lawyers presented arguments for hours Monday about whether a new law satisfies a court mandate to better fund the education of children who don't speak English.

The attorneys' level voices belied the rancor this issue produced between Democrat Gov. Janet Napolitano and Republican legislative leaders. The calm presentations didn't reflect the risk of failure for children who need to become proficient in English in order to succeed. The lawyerly demeanor didn't hint at the threat to Arizona's economic well-being if these children don't achieve their potential.

Lawyers talked. Rebutted.

When they were done, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins said, "It's been fun," and he left.

As he deliberates, we hope he remembers the one moment of clarity, the one indisputable truth that came out of that afternoon.

It was when attorney Jose Cardenas asked Collins to be specific in his ruling. Cardenas was representing the state's position that the law is inadequate. His assumption was that Collins would rule against the law the Legislature passed and the governor says is not good enough.

On the merits of the law, there is, of course, dispute.

Attorneys representing Republican legislative leaders and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne argued that the law solves the problem. They want the judge to give it his blessing.

What's indisputable is that, whatever his decision, Collins should deliver it with guidance.

This is particularly important if, as we suspect, he rules against the approach lawmakers have picked.

In fact, specific guidance would have been especially helpful if Collins had provided it in December when he imposed a deadline for legislative action.
As the governor and lawmakers argued about what the court wanted, fines that Collins had imposed for inaction grew to $21 million.

A dispute about what to do with those fines is now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals because Horne objected when Collins designated the money to English-language learners.

There's no shortage of disputes. No lack of disagreement about an education issue that is crucial to Arizona's future.

So if the judge agrees with attorney Tim Hogan of the Center of Law in the Public Interest and rejects the law, we want to know why. Exactly.
Specifically. Point by point.

Hogan's class-action lawsuit revealed the deficiencies in how Arizona educates English-language learners, but lawmakers have not been inclined to take his counsel.

If the judge agrees with him, the judge needs to outline exactly what elements must be in legislation in order to win his approval.

And, as Cardenas requested, the judge should set a short deadline to make the changes so lawmakers can get a new bill out before the end of this session.

This is not about lawyers in spiffy courtrooms. Or the disagreements between lawmakers and the governor.

It's about children.

And they've been waiting long enough.