Flawed law needs fixing
Arizona Republic
Mar. 28, 2007

The Legislature's plan to educate English-learners is a two-time loser.

Twice it came before a judge. Twice it was ruled inadequate - most recently in a Tucson courtroom last week.

Don't try for three, lawmakers.

Don't appeal this again.

Don't clock more hours with high-priced lawyers on the public's dollar.

Don't waste more time.

Fix this law.

When lawmakers meet today to discuss their next step, they need to consider what's at stake.

About 135,000 children of the state's 1.06 million K-12 students were not proficient in English last year, according to the state Department of Education. The count reached as high as 160,000 in previous years. We're talking about a lot of children.

These children are in school today. They will become the employees, entrepreneurs and executives of tomorrow. They could also become the vandals, criminals and inmates of tomorrow.

A good education can make the difference between being a benefit to society or a burden.

In the past few years, the argument surfaced that some of these children may not be in the country legally, or that their parents may be in the country illegally. That is an attempt to skirt the real issue and create an excuse to ignore the challenge. These children are in school today; they need to be educated today.

It has been 15 years since Arizona was hauled into court for its failure to properly educate children who do not speak English. It's been seven years since a federal judge ordered the state to do the job right.

We need answers, not arguments. Not stalling tactics.

A law passed last year was dubbed inadequate by Gov. Janet Napolitano and others (including this newspaper). But lawmakers wanted the judge to decide, so the governor didn't veto it.

It was no surprise when U.S. District Judge Raner Collins ruled it inadequate.

The state appealed. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court told Collins to hear evidence and reconsider his decision.

He did. He heard weeks of testimony in January, as a bevy of expensive lawyers defended a law that was then a one-time loser.

It became a two-time loser when the judge found last Thursday the same problems that he, the governor and others (including this newspaper) had already identified:

It requires schools to use federal money in a way that violates federal law.

It sets a two-year limit to learn English even though evidence shows it
can take longer.

It increases supplemental funding to $444 per student from the current
$365, even though studies suggest that may not be enough.

The state touts Nogales Unified School District as a model of how to do this
right. But Nogales spends $1,570 extra per student, according to evidence
presented in court.

The judge did not say the state had to spend that much. He did not spell out
a solution. He left it up to lawmakers.

That's hard work.

It needs to be done. The state is now under federal court order to find a
solution by the end of this legislative session.

Lawmakers could try to shirk that responsibility. They could seek a stay of
the order and vow to appeal the decision on this two-time loser of a

They shouldn't do it.

Arizona doesn't need a delaying tactic. The state doesn't need to keep
defending a flawed approach.

Arizona needs a real solution.