Officials remain divided on English education Napolitano, GOP stall on firm plan
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 7, 2006

Robbie Sherwood and Chip Scutari

Gov. Janet Napolitano told Republican lawmakers Monday that she agrees with them on the need to obtain better information to determine how much money the state should spend to educate children struggling to learn English.

In a letter she described as a "show of goodwill," Napolitano said she agrees on the need to hold school districts accountable, to make programs cost efficient and to emphasize immersion in the English language. Still, the two sides remain far apart on how to satisfy a court order to improve English-learner programs.

Napolitano did not back away from her previous plan for English-learners.
She said Arizona must increase funding for programs immediately, then adjust the money pending the outcome of a new cost study. Republicans have so far rejected that idea.

"We can't wait for the completion of that study to begin addressing the problem," she wrote in a letter to Senate President Ken Bennett and House Speaker Jim Weiers.

With daily court-ordered fines of $500,000 a day stacking up, Napolitano wrote that her letter was designed "in the spirit of fostering further conversation and progress toward a solution." The daily fines are now up to
$7 million.

A representative of GOP leaders said the letter offered no real compromise on key disputes.

"A key in a compromise proposal is to make some movement," House GOP spokesman Barrett Marson said. "There appears to be little movement in the executive's latest letter. The governor created the expectation by saying on Monday she would provide a new proposal. What we got today, however, was déjà vu. There is nothing new."

After vetoing two Republican plans, Napolitano submitted a proposal last week that would spend about $45 million this year, eventually growing to about $185 million. She said in her letter that figures could be adjusted based on the outcome of the cost study.

Monday's letter offered an explanation of why the money is needed.

"It is important to think in terms of results. We need students who emerge from school speaking, reading and writing fluently in English, students who can pass the AIMS test and who are ready to join and perform in an English-speaking work force," she wrote.

The Republican plan would increase spending by $31 million for one year but would then become a grant program with no known price tag because schools would first have to devote federal funds to the programs before they could ask for state help. Arizona currently spends about $55 million on English-learner students.

After Napolitano's first veto, lawmakers capped their unlimited tuition-tax credit plan at $50 million, but Napolitano rejected that plan. Napolitano's letter showed she and the Republican-controlled Legislature remain far apart on key points that include:

• How to fund instruction. Legislative leaders favor a grant program that requires every district to prove how much money they need. Napolitano wants to keep a per-pupil funding formula that's used now for all Arizona students.

• Tax credits: GOP lawmakers want corporate tuition tax credits to be an integral part of any compromise. The donations would divert taxes from public schools to private schools with scholarships for English-language learners. Napolitano wants to keep a $5 million cap on the school choice measure, and she wants to put regulations on private schools that take the state money to provide adequate English instruction.