Arizona can’t limit additional aid to students to reduce their English learning curriculum to just two years, a federal appeals court affirmed Thursday.
The full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments by attorneys, Republican legislative leaders and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne that they can limit how long Arizona taxpayers have to finance the programs designed to teach English. The full court, without comment, accepted the conclusions of a three-judge panel that there is no evidence all students can become proficient in the two years the law would fund.
Potentially more significantly, Thursday’s ruling also upholds the panel’s conclusion that schools can’t be forced to divert certain federal grants to teaching English before they qualify for additional state dollars.
Horne and legislative leaders had sought a contrary ruling — a move that would have enabled them to cut the $40.6 million in new funds just appropriated for English learner programs to less than $20 million.
Horne vowed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the only legal option left at this point.
But Horne said more is at stake: He wants the nation’s high court to throw out the entire lawsuit first filed in 1992. And that would eliminate the need for Arizona to give any more money to schools than the state now provides — including the extra $40.6 million just approved.
Specifically, he hopes the Supreme Court will say that the way Arizona runs its schools is none of the federal court’s business.
“We think there’s a very fundamental question presented here, and that is whether or not we are a representative republic where people rule themselves through elected representatives or whether lifetime appointed federal judges who are accountable to no one can micromanage the taxing and spending of monies of the people,” he said.All this comes as attorney Tim Hogan, who represents the parents who sued the state, is pushing in the opposite direction.
Hogan is headed back to court next week to ask U.S. District Judge Raner Collins to rule that $40.6 million is not enough to put the state into compliance with federal laws that require Arizona to guarantee all students have the opportunity to learn English.
A hearing on the adequacy of the financing likely would occur later this year.
But that spat could become moot if Horne get the U.S. Supreme Court to see the situation his way.
Horne acknowledged that Arizona’s system of financing programs for English language learners was found legally insufficient in 2000. And the state officials at that time, including Gov. Jane Hull and schools Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, never appealed that ruling.
But Horne said things have changed since then.
First, the state is providing more money to schools: about $371 for each of the approximately 138,000 students classified as “English language learners.”
By contrast, the figure was less than half that at the time of the 2000 ruling.
More to the point, Horne said evidence shows that students in the Nogales school district — the district where the parents filed suit — are learning English. He said it’s now time for the federal courts to butt out.
Hogan, however, said some Nogales students are doing better because schools there — and elsewhere — have diverted funds to English learning that should be spent on other programs.
He contends the federal law requires states to provide additional cash for English learners above and beyond basic aid, and in an amount sufficient to finance necessary programs.
Horne, however, said the diversion of funds “is a policy issue,” which is none of the federal court’s business.