Governor says special session may be necessary on school funding
The Associated Press
Aug. 3, 2005

By Paul Davenport

In the wake of lawsuit plaintiffs going to court to turn up the heat on state lawmakers, Gov. Janet Napolitano says a special session of the Legislature may be needed to resolve a long-standing school funding issue that could jeopardize federal funding for highway construction in Arizona.

Napolitano said Wednesday she plans to raise the possibility of a special session when she meets next week with top legislative leaders.

A federal judge has ruled that the state's programs for students learning the English language are inadequate, and attorneys for class-action plaintiffs on Tuesday asked that the state's federal highway dollars be withheld until the state complies with the court rulings.

The Republican-led Legislature in April passed a bill to increase funding and retool the state's programs but Napolitano said the bill was inadequate and vetoed it. The Democratic governor later offered a plan that would be more costly.

When asked about the issue Wednesday during a news conference, Napolitano said lawmakers need to deal with it sooner rather than later. "We need to solve this problem as opposed to litigating it," she said.

Senate President Ken Bennett has the issue might wait until next year because state funding for the school year just getting started is already set.

"It could just be something that is done at the beginning of a regular session or something like that," Bennett said last week in an interview with The Associated Press. "I don't know what if you did it in a special session right now you could put into effect before the next school year anyway."

The lawsuit plaintiffs asked the judge in the case to expedite his consideration of their request for sanctions. Otherwise, it could be months before there's a ruling and easily January before the Legislature is forced to act, the plaintiffs' lawyers said.

Given that the students are not adequately learning English and are failing the AIMS graduation test in large numbers, "they need relief now, not next January," the motion stated.