New rulings possible in school funds case
Oct. 30, 2005

A federal courtroom in Tucson will be the setting for a showdown Monday in a legal and political battle that could increase some schools' funding, interrupt the state's federal highway funding and allow many high-school students to graduate without passing the AIMS test.  

U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins will hear arguments on pending high-stakes motions in a decade-old case in which Collins and another judge have already found serious shortcomings in the state's funding and programs for instruction of an estimated 160,000 students learning the English language.

 Plaintiffs in the class-action case have asked Collins to suspend Arizona's $650 million of average annual federal highway funding to prod the state into action. "Further delay is not an option," the plaintiffs' lawyers wrote in a court filing.

Separately, the plaintiffs' attorneys contend the state's alleged lack of compliance means it would be unfair to require English-learning students to pass the AIMs test to get a high-school diploma. They want Collins to suspend that requirement for English learners.  

The AIMS test measures students' mastery of state curriculum standards in math, reading and writing. Beginning next spring, seniors must pass the test to graduate.  

The state opposes the motions, arguing that a different judge ruled against the plaintiffs four years ago in a challenge to the AIMs test and that the state has increased funding for English-learning instruction.  

While Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Republican-controlled Legislature have "good faith differences of opinion on what to do next," the state has not shown indifference and shouldn't be penalized, the state's lawyers argued.  

Construction industry groups also have urged Collins to refuse to cut off the highway dollars. That money is crucial both to the state's economy and the industry and a cutoff is beyond the judiciary's authority, groups representing construction companies and engineers said.  

It's not known when Collins will rule on the motions.  

He had given the Legislature until the end of the 2005 regular session to comply with another other judge's 2000 order. That judge ruled that the state's programs for English-learning students don't satisfy a federal law guaranteeing equal opportunities in education.  

The case remains unsettled in the courts largely because elected state officials haven't agreed on a legislative solution after years that have spurts of action, long waits for studies and then fresh controversy.  

"My perception is that the legislative leadership really doesn't want to move o