State school districts want a delay in the law that requires they start providing four hours a day of special instruction to English learners beginning next school year.
Mike Smith, lobbyist for the Arizona School Administrators Association, repeated the assertion his group has made that the $40 million in new funds the Legislature is being asked to provide is inadequate to do the job. They put in combined requests for $274 million.
Smith told Capitol Media Services Thursday the funding dispute likely will have to be decided in federal court.
That will take time. But a 2006 state law specifically requires districts to start using new teaching methods this coming school year for each of the 130,000 students classified as "English language learners."
Ignoring that law is not an option: Smith said the statute allows the state to withhold not only any new funds but even take away the $360 that schools now are receiving for each English learner.
He said if legislators reject a delay, the superintendents will ask U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins to relieve them of the new teaching requirements while the issue of adequacy of funding is litigated.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said Thursday he will oppose any delay.
He said there is a "wealth of data" to justify the $40 million figure. Horne said if lawmakers provide the $40 million he requested - something he presumes they will do - there is no excuse for schools not to put each of the affected students into four hours a day of special English immersion classes.
Horne also warned the superintendents could end up harming students more if they push their case and win.
"With a reasonable number, there's reason to hope the Legislature will do it and we'll get this behind us," Horne said. But he predicted there is no way lawmakers will provide much more than that $40 million, no matter what a court orders.
In legal papers filed Thursday, attorney Tim Hogan, representing the plaintiffs in the underlying lawsuit, backed up the contention of the superintendents.
As proof, he cited Nogales Unified School District - whose $26.2 million funding request was pared by Horne to just $751,312 - and actually to zero if the district is forced to use other state dollars. But Hogan pointed out to Collins that he ruled last year Nogales was taking funds away from other federal, state and local programs to provide the $1,570 per student in its English learner programs.
In his legal filings Thursday, Hogan rejected the contention by lawyers for the Legislature that they need until mid-April to review Horne's requests and comply with Collins' order that they properly fund English learner programs.
"The Legislature has had eight years to deliberate," he said, referring to the original 2000 court order declaring the state was not meeting its obligations under federal law to ensure all children have an opportunity to learn English. That ruling never was appealed.
Collins has said he is willing to declare the state finally in compliance with the law - and end the lawsuit first filed in 1992 - if lawmakers adequately fund the teaching models. Collins also said the Legislature must remove two provisions from the 2006 law he said violate federal law: a two-year limit on special funding for English learners and a requirement that schools first use certain federal grant dollars before they seek additional state aid.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals already has rejected requests by attorneys for Horne and the Legislature to overturn that ruling. That leaves the possibility the U.S. Supreme Court will intercede.