Earth Notes
5:09 am
Tue January 24, 2006

Legislature Passes English Learner Bill

Phoenix, AZ – The measure requires every school with students classified as English language learners choose from a list of acceptable plans to provide instruction through immersion. Then each school must identify the other funds already available and get the balance from the state. State school superintendent Tom Horne said that satisfies the requirement of a federal court judge who said Arizona must provide a scientific basis for deciding how much extra cash to give schools for these ELL students rather than the extra $355 now given for each youngster.

By contrast, Gov. Janet Napolitano and Democrats favor a plan to boost that per-student funding to $1,200 -- at a cost to the state of more than $135 million. But that wasn't what caused most of the consternation. Republicans tacked on a new provision at the last minute to create an entirely new tax credit allowing individuals to give up to $500 to
organizations that provide scholarships for private and parochial schools for ELL students and get a dollar-for-dollar reduction of what they owe the state. And
corporations could divert an unlimited amount of their state tax obligations to these scholarships. That proved too much for even some Republicans like Sen.
Toni Hellon.

(It does not have the kind of accountability that should be built in to something like this. There are no limits on corporate contributions. It mixes too issues that in my mind should not be mixed -- corporate tax credit and education in this way. I think this is wrong.)

And Sen. Carolyn Allen, another Republican, said that lack of limits means the credits could have, in her words, the potential to be an endless financial drain. Monday's action puts the Legislature in compliance with the order by U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins for action on a funding plan by the end of the day today. Collins has since ruled that today's deadline does not apply to the governor who constitutionally has five days -- not counting Sunday -- to review the measure and decide whether to sign it, veto it -- or let it become law without her signature. Democratic Sen. Robert Cannell said the new provision may have created a poison pill that will doom the entire package.

(What has happened with the tax credit attached to this bill is you put the governor in the position where she can't let this go through. There's no knowledge of how much this is going to cost the state.)

But Senate President Ken Bennett said that ignores the fact that more scholarships mean fewer students in public schools at state expense.

(Remember that as a student currently in the K-12 system, if their parents decided they wanted to go with a scholarship that was available, while the general fund would have absorbed a cost at the time of the tax
credit contribution to the fund, there's going to be a savings of almost equal and maybe more dollars overall in the K-12 system over here.)

An aide to the governor said she has not decided what to do with the bill. But attorney Tim Hogan, who represents parents who filed the original 1992 lawsuit over lack of funding, is urging a veto -- even if the state ends up paying fines of half a million dollars a day -- because it will get the attention of state lawmakers.

(The governor needs to understand they care about these fines. And that's the biggest hammer we've got right now. As soon as you either sign the bill or let it go into effect you've lost that leverage and it's back in the court's hands. And believe me, it's been a long time since the Legislature cared what the courts have said about anything.)

The governor has until the end of business Monday to decide what to do. In Phoenix, for Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.