Napolitano, GOP at odds after court ruling on English
Dec. 21, 2005
A federal judge is ordering the state to improve its instruction of students
learning the English language, but Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and
Republican legislative leaders are at odds on how to do that.
While top GOP leaders have said they're not willing to give school districts
more money without setting up new systems to determine if more money is needed
and would be wisely used, Napolitano said Wednesday that complying with the
court order "just requires more funding."
U.S. District Judge Raner Collins on Friday ordered the state to provide
adequate funding of English Language Learning programs. The judge also hit the
state with daily fines starting at $500,000 and ultimately rising to $2 million
if it doesn't act by specified deadlines during the Legislature's upcoming
Collins' order referred to another judge's previous order that cited class
sizes, lack of trained teachers and other shortcomings, but the latest order
doesn't spell out what the state needs to bring the ELL programs into
The Republicans and Napolitano, with backing from Democratic lawmakers, each
have offered plans. So far, neither side has showed signs of publicly moving
toward the other.
Right after Collins ruled Friday, the Republicans appeared to stake out firm
ground on the issue, saying they planned to seek early passage of legislation
similar to a bill that passed last spring but which Napolitano vetoed after
The Republican bill, which already has been prefiled in the House for 2006
consideration, would scrap the current system of providing school districts with
extra dollars for each ELL student. Instead, districts would have to report what
funding they need for their ELL programs and what dollars they have available.
The state would then provide grants to fill in funding gaps.
Napolitano's plan overlaps with the Republican proposal in some accountability
provisions, including state monitoring of schools' spending, but continues to
use the current system of per-student funding while phasing in increases over
three years when the overall cost would reach approximately $200 million. That's
more than triple current spending.
Democratic critics of the Republican plan say it wouldn't satisfy the court
because funding wouldn't be assured. Republicans counter that they won't back
off from demanding that state funding be based on actual, demonstrated need.
"There's some issues that we can improve upon, but if you're looking at changing
the philosophy of accountability, to be thrown out simply by throwing more money
and making that problem more expensive, no, not going to do it," said House
Speaker Jim Weiers.
During weekly news conference Wednesday, Napolitano suggested that Republicans
might prove to be more flexible than their initial comments indicated.
"What I have learned is that people say a lot of things in the immediate
aftermath of a court ruling or what have you, but reason needs to prevail,
common sense needs to prevail," she said. "We need to understand that what this
is about is having an English-speaking work force and that just requires more
funding in the system than we currently are providing."
"That's what the schools tell us, that's what employers tell us and that's what
we need to be working towards, and the method by which that is given out, in my
view, really needs to deal with certainty in the out years, not just in the
first year," she added.
A Democratic lawmaker who with 22 colleagues has prefiled a version of
Napolitano's plan for 2006 consideration said one outcome could be that the
Legislature would pass the GOP-drafted plan and that Napolitano would let it
become law without her signature. Then, the lawsuit plaintiffs would go to court
to challenge its adequacy, Rep. David Lujan said.
"What the Republicans have put out there in terms of a funding plan is far below
what is necessary, so I think we all know what the federal judge's response is
going to be when he reviews it," Lujan said.