New bill to teach English advances
Capitol Media Services

Tucson, Arizona | Published:

By Howard Fischer

PHOENIX For the second time in two days, Republican lawmakers approved a financing plan to teach English, making a small change to the latest measure in hopes of getting the governor to sign it.
The legislation approved late Tuesday by the House on a 33-23 vote and by the Senate 16-14, contains provisions identical to one vetoed by Gov. Janet Napolitano earlier in the day.
It requires schools with "English language learners" to choose an acceptable teaching method and cost, identify available funds and seek state dollars for the balance.
It creates an entirely new income-tax credit for individuals to divert up to $500 of their state income-tax obligations to organizations that help ELL students attend private and parochial schools.
And it still lets corporations get a dollar-for-dollar credit against their state income taxes for donations for these scholarships.
But the revised bill now has a $50 million annual cap on credits available to all corporations statewide.
That is specifically designed to address Napolitano's first veto message. The Democratic governor called the first version of the bill "fiscally irresponsible," saying it would allow every corporation to divert every dollar it owes to the state to the scholarships a figure that could hit $850 million a year.
The quick legislative turnaround within hours of the veto avoids a federal court order for the state to come up with an acceptable funding plan by today or face fines of $500,000 a day.
Gubernatorial press aide Jeanine L'Ecuyer said Napolitano went home Tuesday evening and has not yet decided whether to sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without her signature.
But her lack of action does not trigger the fines: U.S. District Judge Raner Collins said he would not begin imposing the penalties until the governor exhausts the five days she has to act.
Napolitano said she will not let the possibility of fines deter her from vetoing the measure again if she does not find it acceptable. She said, though, that doesn't mean the state would lose money.
At her request, Attorney General Terry Goddard filed legal papers Tuesday asking Collins to direct that the penalties not be forfeited to the federal government but instead be put into a special fund to be used to teach English meaning no net loss of tax dollars whenever a new plan eventually is approved.
"This fine can and should be devoted to the aggrieved parties," Napolitano said. "And that is the children of our state."
The governor, in her first veto message, said she prefers her own solution to the 14-year-old lawsuit over lack of adequate funding for English-language programs: boost state funding for each of the 160,000 students classified as English language learners from the current $355 a youngster to about $1,200. That has a $135 million annual cost.
There is no way to put a price tag on the Republican plan, as the amount to be spent would depend on each school's needs. But GOP leaders have said their plan would be less expensive, at least in part because schools would have to use other available funding to teach English, including federal grants to help students in poverty and special tax levies to help desegregate schools.
House Majority Whip Gary Pierce, R-Mesa, said Napolitano should not reject the GOP plan but forward it to Collins and let him decide if it complies with his order.
Napolitano refused to say whether the Republican plan is acceptable to her now that the tax credit is capped.
In her veto message, she complained that the lack of a cap would eat into the potential $1 billion state surplus.
But House Majority Leader Steve Tully, R-Phoenix, said the total could not reach anywhere close to $850 million because there aren't that many ELL students who would be eligible for scholarships. Even if that were not the case, Tully rejected Napolitano's contention there is a danger that every corporation would opt to give all of its tax obligations for scholarships.
"Pigs may fly someday, too," he said.