Kids still losers in English-learner suit
Arizona Republic
Jan. 15, 2009


by E.J. Montini -

Boys and girls? Hello? Please, take your seats. Thank you. Quiet, please.
Today, we have two guest lecturers in Arizona history class. They are Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, and Tim Hogan of the non-profit Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest.
These fine gentlemen are on opposite sides of a legal case out of Arizona that is going to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Isn't that exciting? The highest court in the land.
Anyway, the lawsuit goes back to 1992, and involves funding for students who don't speak English very well. Mr. Hogan doesn't believe that the state has fulfilled its obligations for those students and has won in court several times. Mr. Horne and some legislative leaders appealed the case until, finally, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear it.
However, even before the court makes its decision, each man believes that there is an important lesson to be learned just from having the Supreme Court take the case.
Mr. Horne has declared that the lesson is: "We are still smart enough to rule ourselves through our elected officials and we don't need an aristocracy of federal judges ruling over us."
Mr. Hogan, on the other hand, believes that the lesson being taught is: "Some people are more willing to spend money on high-priced lawyers than on kids."
Later, there will be a quiz in which I might ask you which of those two statements is closer to being accurate.
(Hint: It's the SECOND one.)
But first, a little actual history.
Back in 1992, some families in Nogales filed a class-action suit, saying that Arizona was not following federal law by failing to provide what they claimed was adequate funding for programs aimed at improving the skills of children who don't speak English.
A federal judge ruled in favor of the families in 2000, but the Legislature didn't like that decision, so the case bumped back and forth between the courts and the politicians.
It finally wound up in the 9th Circuit, which upheld the judge's decision.
After the Legislature still didn't come up with a plan to satisfy the federal judge or meet the needs of the kids, the judge threatened to fine the state $2 million a day.
Now, the case is before the Supreme Court, which, as you know, class, is made up of nine federal judges.
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.
Meantime, during all this haggling, how have the kids in the English Language Learner (ELL) program been doing?
One report said that half the students were getting no English instruction and that two-thirds weren't making any progress at all.
But isn't that their families' problem? Why should the rest of us care?
When I asked Mr. Hogan that, he said, "Kids who don't speak the language become adults who don't speak the language, people who have a hard time finding and keeping jobs. They get into trouble. Go on welfare. They cost us a LOT more than if we'd educated them properly."
Still, legislative leaders and Mr. Horne objected.
Kenneth Starr, the attorney who investigated President Bill Clinton, was hired by legislators.
We taxpayers now are giving Mr. Starr over $900 per hour to persuade the Supreme Court to overturn the previous rulings.
And for that kind of money, he just might do it.
Presuming that happens, class, please answer the following question.
Who are the ultimate winners?
A. Students. B. Lawyers.

Reach Montini at 602-444-8978 or ed.montini@arizonarepublic .com.