PHOENIX — A federal appeals court has vacated a decision holding Arizona in contempt of court for missing a deadline to revamp the state’s programs for more than 150,000 public school students learning the English language.
The decision voided by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also rejected a new state law on English-learning programs and prohibited the state from requiring English-learning students to pass a state-mandated test to graduate from high school.
The three-judge panel said U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins should have held a hearing to consider changed circumstances in education programs and funding since 2000. That was when a since-retired judge ruled that Arizona’s English programs were inadequate under federal equal opportunity laws.
The order did not rule on a new state law increasing funding for the programs but sent the entire case back to District Court. Tim Hogan, an attorney for plaintiffs in the case, said that means Collins must hold an evidentiary hearing on the various issues.
The fines imposed by Collins for the state’s failure to meet a January deadline had reached $21 million before they stopped by the March 2 passage of a new law changing the program.
The law’s supporters said it would fund English language programs while ensuring that they use effective methods of instruction. The law passed increased the state’s supplemental funding to school districts and charter schools by nearly 22 percent.
But the judge said the law did not provide adequate funding, failed to spell out
the costs of providing those programs and didn’t explain the basis for the funding it would provide.
Republicans contend they tailored the measure to comply with earlier court rulings. Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano has said it fell short but allowed it to become law without her signature in the hope that Collins will deem it inadequate and order lawmakers to do more.