Napolitano, lawmakers negotiate on English learning
Associated Press
Feb. 9, 2006


After more than a week of sparring through letters and jabs in the media, legislators and Gov. Janet Napolitano on Thursday resumed face-to-face negotiations to try to resolve an education issue that has the state accumulating daily $500,000 fines imposed by a federal judge.

The Democratic governor and Republican legislative leaders said after their 90-minute meeting that they'd made good progress toward an agreement on how to revamp programs for approximately 150,000 students learning the English language.

"People are trading ideas rather than insults," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, a Republican who is participating in the talks with Napolitano and legislative leaders from both parties. "They're getting closer."

A federal judge ruled in 2000 that the state is not complying with a federal law requiring equal opportunities in education, falling short in such areas as teacher training, class size and instruction material.

The fines began Jan. 25 under an order by a different judge, and the amount accumulated in a special state account reached $8 million Thursday.

Napolitano and legislative leaders last met on the issue on Jan. 30, and she presented them with slightly revised proposals one day later and again on Tuesday. She'd previously vetoed Republican bills three times, once last May and twice last month.

Key issues include funding, state oversight and Republicans' inclusion of a corporate tax credit for businesses' donations for private school tuition grants for ELL students.

On the funding issue, 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.

Participants in Thursday's negotiating session declined to provide specifics but Napolitano said she and lawmakers found "areas where we may be reaching some new agreement."

Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, said the sides were "closer to some conceptual consensus and agreement" and that they would put proposals in writing for consideration when the talks continue Monday.

Republicans have insisted on inclusion of the tax credit, citing Napolitano's veto of similar legislation that was part of a budget agreement last year.

Napolitano has said she'd accept a tax credit but with restrictions that Republicans have said are unacceptable. House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, said the proposed tax credit was not discussed Thursday. "It is an issue at this point," he said.