A federal judge agreed Tuesday to give lawmakers five more weeks to adopt funding for English learner programs - but with a penalty if they let that deadline slip.U.S. District Judge Raner Collins accepted arguments by attorneys for Republican legislative leaders that they cannot meet his original deadline to have funding in place. That deadline was actually last Tuesday.
And he agreed that lawmakers need additional time to digest the report submitted to them March 3 by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, saying individual districts need an additional $40.6 million a year in state funds to properly teach English to students who come to school speaking other languages.
But Collins, in his two-page order, showed he is running out of patience with the state, which has now been under court order for eight years to properly fund the English instruction programs: He said each day they go beyond April 15 will cost Arizona $2 million in fines.
And Collins said if they hit May 15 without funding, those daily fines will go up to $5 million.
House Majority Leader Tom Boone, R-Peoria, said he was pleased by the ruling and promised the Legislature will meet the April 15 deadline, which is just three days short of the additional time lawmakers had sought.
But Boone said the measure will be structured so the state could end up paying only half that amount.
Boone and Horne believe that schools should be forced to first use certain federal aid they are getting before tapping the state treasury. If that offset is allowed, the actual cost to Arizona taxpayers would be less than $20 million.
So far, though, both Collins and a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have rejected that contention. But attorneys for the state are asking the full appellate court to reconsider.
Boone said any legislation would spell out that if the state wins that argument, the extra dollars are not given out.