Legal language will decide on teaching English language
The Arizona Republic
May. 20, 2005

Jim Weiers

The Arizona Republic Editorial Board did not have its facts straight when it blasted the Legislature's approval of a plan to teach English to nearly 200,000 non-English speaking students ("Plainly speaking," Editorial, Wednesday).

In calling for Gov. Janet Napolitano to veto the bill to fund teaching English to children speaking another language - a measure that passed with bipartisan support - the board claims the legislation will not satisfy a federal court order.

The problem is, neither The Republic nor the governor have the final say on this important piece of legislation. The last word belongs to a federal judge in Tucson.

He alone gets to decide whether the Legislature's plan meets legal requirements of federal law. A veto eliminates the chance that the plan will receive a fair shot from the judge.

As for the plan itself, we believe The Republic was incorrect on several key points.

First, the plan was neither put together late at night nor at the last minute. In fact, legislators have been looking at this issue for years, with a significant amount of time invested this session to come up with an innovative way to fund the teaching of children of immigrants. The plan gives each school district a choice about how to teach these students.

Second, the legislation does not call for another study. Rather, it asks the school districts to come up with a plan to teach English immersion and apply for money to fund the real cost of the program.

This addresses both the concerns expressed by the judge regarding "arbitrary and capricious" funding numbers and promotes accountability. The latter is a concept that should be a staple of all taxpayer-funded programs, but which is too often disregarded by The Republic.

Lastly, the cost study that was devised for the Legislature fell far short of what the contract required. Providing money at the cost study's levels would have left the state open to more claims of creating funding levels in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner.

The editorial ignores the fact that numerous good-faith negotiations took place with legislative Democrats, following an understanding between Republican leaders and the governor that Flores be addressed before the session ended.

This was done, and it was accomplished at first-year funding levels sought by the governor and Democrat leaders. The plan sitting before the governor addresses the issues before the court.

The plan as passed places an additional $28.5 million into the program (on top of the more than $40 million added in 2001). The bottom line is that the court has asked for the state "to follow through with the practices, resources and personnel necessary to transform theory into reality."

The court also said that the current mode of funding "bears no relation to the actual funding needed," which is why we advocated for a new way of doing business based on actual need. The approved plan provides the resources to train and monitor districts to ensure the schools have the support they need from the state to teach the children who require English immersion.

We have produced a plan that addresses the issues in a way that the description "arbitrary and capricious" can be replaced with "accountability and performance."

We stand by the legislative plan as practical and thoughtful, and should Gov. Napolitano follow the Editorial Board's recommendation to veto the legislation, she would in essence be deeming herself governor and judge.

Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, is the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, is president of the Arizona State Senate.