Jan. 26, 2005
Running out of patience, a
federal judge ordered state lawmakers Tuesday to
provide more money for English instruction
programs by the end of this legislative session
or face possible sanctions.
U.S. District Judge Raner Collins
said in Tucson that legislators have failed to
meet prior deadlines set by the court to comply
with an order to properly fund these programs to
teach English to students who come from homes
where that is not the predominant language.
Collins rejected pleas by
attorneys for the state to give lawmakers a
chance to act on their own, and at their own
Collins noted that it has been
more than five years since another judge found
the state was violating federal laws that
require the state to ensure that all children
"If the court were to defer its
ruling to see if the Legislature acts on its
own, it may jeopardize any opportunity for the
English Language Learner programs to be funded
during this legislative session," Collins wrote
in his six-page ruling. The result, he said, is
that "the children will have to wait more than
another year for any type of relief."
The session is likely to run into
May or June.
Collins did not say what will
happen if legislators balk. But attorney Tim
Hogan, who represents the parents who sued, has
said the proper remedy would be for the judge to
block Arizona from getting about $400 million a
year in federal highway funds.
House Majority Leader Steve Tully
said lawmakers are interested in resolving the
lawsuit, filed more than a dozen years ago. But
Tully refused to promise that lawmakers will
come up with extra money this year, suggesting
the state might file an appeal, further delaying
The lawsuit, filed by parents of
students in the Nogales Unified School District,
charged the state was not complying with federal
laws requiring schools to offer adequate
English-language instruction. Judge Alfredo
Marquez ruled in 2000 that the $150 per pupil in
additional state aid being provided for students
with limited English skills was "arbitrary and
capricious," with no bearing on actual cost.
Lawmakers subsequently voted to
increase that, with the current figure standing
at about $360 per pupil.
Marquez rejected that in 2002
because it was not based on any actual data of
the real cost. He gave lawmakers until Dec. 1,
2004 to complete a study, a deadline that passed
There was a study by the National
Conference of State Legislatures that pegged the
actual cost at anywhere between $700 and $2,500
for students with the greatest need. That could
translate to $200 million for the approximately
200,000 students in Arizona schools who lack a
command of English.
Tully dismissed that report,
saying it was flawed and did not really answer
the questions that lawmakers asked. A revised
report is due in mid-February.