Different view of English-learner progress
Arizona Republic
Jan. 24, 2009


by Tom Horne -
My Turn

In his Jan. 15 column "Kids still losers in English-learner suit," columnist E.J. Montini suggests that I only care about funneling money to rich lawyers and do not care about teaching students English. Wow.
By contrast, here is what the Federal District Court itself said about me (with my notations):
"The Arizona Department of Education (A.D.E.) is doing much more than it was in 2000 (before I took office), with regard to creating standards, norms and oversight for Arizona's public schools and students with regard to ELL (English-language learners) programs. It is apparent that the A.D.E. has taken its role seriously and is endeavoring to establish appropriate standards and goals for all students in Arizona."

We eliminated bilingual education in which students learned virtually no English. For the first time this year, we are insisting that schools give each language learner at least four hours a day of intensive English-language instruction. The prior average was half hour to one hour.
Last year, three districts implemented the new models that we are now requiring of all schools. As a result, the percentage of ELL students becoming English proficient has doubled.
While acknowledging my hard work for English-language learners, the Federal District Court refused to dismiss the case because it felt the Legislature had not supplied sufficient funds. We now spend more than $300 extra per English-language learner, ($40 million) above and beyond what we provide to our other students.
Tim Hogan wants the court to force the Legislature to increase this to $300 million.
Since I persuaded the Court of Appeals to reverse a judge's punitive fines and have demanded that schools justify each expense they require to teach students English, I have saved Arizona taxpayers more than $260 million.
Montini wrote, "Apparently, what Mr. Horne meant when he said, 'We don't need an aristocracy of federal judges' is that he doesn't need judges who disagree with him."
No E.J., that's not what I intended to say.
Here's what I was saying: Even in medieval England, matters of taxation and spending were for Parliament, not for the monarchy or the judges.
If you disagree with an elected official, you can work to elect someone else. If you disagree with a judge, all you can do is shake your fist at the sky.
So people who believe in self-government believe the proper role of judges is to apply the law to individual cases - where we want decision makers to be independent of popular passions - but not to determine policies regarding taxation and spending, which the people should decide through their elected representatives.
By accepting my request for argument on our issue, which it denies in 99 percent of cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has shown that it is sensitive to this important philosophical issue of self-government.
Because the issue is $260 million per year of unjustified expenses, the cost of taking this to the U.S. Supreme Court is a bargain.

Tom Horne is the superintendent of public instruction in Arizona