Little progress on English issue, Napolitano says
Associated Press
Feb. 15, 2006

Gov. Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that she and legislative leaders have made little progress in talks aimed at resolving an education funding issue that has resulted in the state getting hit with $11 million worth of fines.

"We're meeting. I can't say that we're making great progress. We're meeting but I think we're still pretty far apart," Napolitano said during her weekly availability with reporters.

Napolitano vetoed three bills passed by the Republican-led Legislature to revamp programs for students learning the English language and the state missed a Jan. 25 deadline set by a federal judge to comply with a federal law requiring equal opportunities in education.

One of the vetoes occurred last May. The other two were last month.

The daily fines imposed by U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins began at $500,000 and will gradually increase to $2 million by the end of the current legislative session if the state hasn't acted to the court's satisfaction.

Another federal judge ruled in 2000 that the state's English Language Learning programs are not in compliance with the law, falling short in such areas as teacher training, instructional material and class size.

For now at least, the fine money remains in the state treasury but Collins is considering a motion by lawyers for the state asking that the state be ordered to begin distributing the money to schools on a per-ELL student basis.

As governor, Napolitano decided that position and it has support from Democratic legislative leaders and from the class-action plaintiffs whose lawsuit produced the court orders.

Republican legislative leaders and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, also a Republican, have asked Collins to instead let the state keep the fine money until the issue is resolved and apply it to any eventual solution.

Napolitano has called for retaining the current approach of providing district and charter schools with additional dollars for each ELL student but more than tripling that amount.

Republicans want to replace the current system with a new one in which the state would approve funding needed by each district or charter school to implement state-approved instruction models.