In plain English
Arizona Republic
Jun. 24, 2005
State leaders must produce a realistic school language plan - now

Kiss and make up? Won't happen.

Handshakes will do.

Along with a commitment to improve the education of students who need to learn English.

If you don't know the acrimonious "they said/she said" that marked the end of the legislative session, consider yourself lucky. We're not going to rehash it here.

Determining who was to blame is an unrealistic goal. After all, we have a Democratic governor who will run for re-election next year and Republican lawmakers who'd like to topple her.

None is likely to cede the political high ground.

But it is not too much to expect elected officials to work in the public's best interest.

Arizona needs a plan to improve educational opportunities for the large and growing segment of the student population that is not proficient in English. Ignoring a court order to do that could result in the loss of federal

But the court order is just the cudgel. It is not the reason to act.

That reason is the kids.

The population of English-language learners in Arizona schools is estimated to be 160,000. It has increased by nearly 9 percent in the past two years, according to research by ThinkAZ, an independent think tank in Phoenix.

The Arizona Department of Education has reported that these kids lag behind English-speaking kids in significant ways. This performance gap represents a lost resource.

In a time of global competition educational achievement will open doors to Arizona's future economic and social well-being.

Dismissing this population as undocumented immigrants who don't deserve help would be shortsighted and unfair. Many children of undocumented immigrants are U.S. citizens. They are not going to leave.

In addition, many U.S.-born children of citizens and legal residents come from homes where only Spanish is spoken.

Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed a bill favored by the Republican leadership to address the English-learner issue. Last week, she came up with an alternative plan, which she sent to Senate President Ken Bennett and House Speaker Jim Weiers. Bennett says they are preparing a response.

There are a number of deep differences between the parties. But there are also points of agreement on which to build.

Both the governor and lawmakers want about the same funding increase in the first year. Neither side relies on a flawed study that was supposed to provide hard cost figures. And both sides want schools to be accountable.

They disagree on how to determine the correct amount of funding for future years. They also disagree on whether funding should be uniform, based on student population, or vary among schools, based on demonstrated need.

In addition, Bennett says GOP leaders will "have to get some resolution" to a number of vetoes - including one dealing with corporate tuition tax credits - before they act on the English-learner issue.

Resolution of these issues will have to come in a special session, and we urge legislative leadership to work with the governor to come up with an agreement soon to make that happen.

They don't have to like each other.

They just have to work together.