Earth Notes
8:01 am
Sat March 4, 2006

English language learner bill passes

Phoenix, AZ – The governor says this new version is an improvement
over the three bills she has previously vetoed. For
example, those measures would have allowed corporations
to divert some of their state tax obligations to go
instead to help provide scholarships so students could
attend private and parochial schools. And it does
provide more money -- $432 for each of the more than
150,000 students classified as English language
learners, up from $355. But Napolitano said she found
many things still not to her liking. For example, she
said that $432 figure still is inadequate to properly
do the job. And there also is a limit of no more than
two years of funding for each student, whether or not
he or she is proficient at the end of that time. So why
let this one become law?

(If I thought that by vetoing the bill and reentering
discussions we could get it resolved more quickly, I
would have vetoed a bill a fourth time. But the plain
fact of the matter is that if I veto a bill a fourth
time I have no realistic expectation that the
Republican leadership of either House will move.)

In fact the governor listed all of her problems with
this plan in a four-page letter to lawmakers -- a
letter that will also go to Raner Collins, the federal
judge who ordered the state to come up with a
satisfactory plan to meet its obligations to teach all
students English. And if Collins sees it her way and
rejects the plan, it will strengthen her hand in the
next round of negotiations with lawmakers. House
Majority Leader Steve Tully said he is glad that
Napolitano did decide to let the bill become law and
send it to the judge. But Tully was miffed at the way
she is doing it, saying she is, in essence, asking the
court to overturn a legally enacted state law.

(That is completely inappropriate. Once it becomes law
it is her duty to uphold and defend and support the law
of the land. As soon as she lets it become law she has
an obligation to defend the state from this lawsuit,
not to undermine the laws of this state in federal
court.)

Rep. Tom Boone, who has been central to crafting the
Republican plan, believes that the judge will find it
acceptable. He said the court has said all along it
wants schools to get enough money to properly do the
job. And he said that this legislation lets schools ask
the state for more than that $432 per student figure if
they can show that their plan to teach English actually
costs them more. Boone also defended the decision to
limit extra funding to no more than two years, saying
it promotes accountability by school districts.

(And the accountability is, the school districts and
charter schools need to focus, in our opinion, in
correcting the major deficiency these students have.
And that is they do not know how to read, write and
speak English. And that's where the focus should be, on
language acquisition.)

Boone said the current system has no accountability.
That's because the schools get extra state funds for as
long as a student is classified as an English language
learner -- a system that provides no incentive for the
schools to get them proficient because those extra
dollars would go away. Sending the legislation to the
judge does have one important effect: It stops the
fines that Collins imposed on the state for not meeting
his Jan. 24 deadline for coming up with a plan, fines
that now total $21 million. The judge is expected to
get a copy of the new law sometime next week and is
being asked to schedule a hearing as soon as possible
to rule on whether it brings the state into compliance
with the law. In Phoenix, for Arizona Public Radio this
is Howard Fischer.