Napolitano rejects GOP English bill a second time
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 25, 2006

Chip Scutari

For the second day in a row, Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano rejected a Republican-backed plan to help children who don't speak English because it contained corporate tuition tax credits for private-school scholarships.

Her latest move could trigger $500,000-a-day fines from a federal judge for violating the! deadline to fix the state's instruction plan for English-language learners. The fines could grow to $2 million a day if lawmakers don't get a plan to U.S. District Judge Raner Collins by the end of the legislative session. Much like her previous veto, Napolitano pinned her veto on a provision that allows a tuition-tax credit for private-school scholarships.

"Remarkably this bill actually allows for more funds to go toward ELL education in private schools than it does for such education in our public schools," Napolitano wrote in her veto message today.

Republicans, however, say Napolitano is dead wrong because their bill would spend more than $80 million on public school programs for English language learners. They point out that's more than $50 million that could be spent on tuition tax credits for private school scholarships.

Napolitano has scheduled a 2 p.m. press conference to discuss her latest veto..

On Tuesday night, Republicans capped the tuition-tax credit plan at $50 million, but Napolitano has made it clear that she does not want tax credits in any English learner bill.

Napolitano is urging lawmakers to fix their bill in an emergency special se! ssion sometime today; a day after legislators quickly worked to pass bill late last night.

The 1992 case Flores vs. Arizona has prompted the legislative drama. It found that current 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. In a 2000 ruling, a federal judge wrote that there were too many students in a classroom, not enough qualified teachers and teacher aids, and insufficient teaching materials to help kids learn English.

About 154,000 students in Arizona speak foreign languages, mostly Spanish, and are struggling to learn English. That has contributed to Arizona's high dropout rate and sparked a class-action lawsuit 14 years ago. Administrators in school districts with large immigrant populations have said they need extra money to shrink ! the size of classes, update materials and equipment, to provide individual instruction and to better train teachers.

Lawmakers are finding that there aren't any easy answers to solve this issue. Unlike allocating money for breakfast programs or algebra textbooks, teaching language skills varies from city to city.

The Republican plan would spend an additional $31 million next year on English-language-learner programs, though more than $7 million of that is for administrative expenses, testing and auditing. Arizona already spends about $55 million, or about $360 per English Language Learner students.

But after one year, schools would have to apply for state grants for English-language programs, and only after they had applied any federal education funding they were receiving to address the problem. The grant requests could be rejected by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and lawmakers if the schools are judged to be not spending enough of their fed! eral education and desegregation dollars on English-language programs.

Napolitano has a plan that would spend an additional $45 million this year, and eventually up to $185 million a year, to help children learn English. Republican leaders have so far refused to consider the plan because they believe it spends too much and is not based on a credible cost study. On Tuesday afternoon, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard asked Judge Collins to set aside any fines for an eventual English-language-learners program.