The attorney for parents of students who need to learn English wants a judge to shut off all federal highway funds to the state.
Tim Hogan acknowledged in legal papers Tuesday such a move — a figure that totaled $536 million last year — could bring Arizona’s growth to a standstill.
But Hogan told U.S. District Judge Raner Collins it is necessary to finally get the state to comply with federal law and a court order to adequately fund a program to teach English to students who come to school from homes where that is not the predominant language.
"It is inconsistent for the state to ignore its obligations under federal law yet continue to receive billions of dollars in assistance from the federal government,’’ Hogan wrote.
Attorney Lynne Adams, who represents the state, said she was studying Tuesday’s filing and could not comment on the request for sanctions — or even whether or not a judge could cut off highway dollars for a violation of federal education laws.
But House Majority Leader Steve Tully of Phoenix said Hogan wants Collins to order the Legislature to adopt an expensive plan proposed by Gov. Janet Napolitano. That, he said, is improper.
Hogan, however, said he wants the judge to pressure legislators to provide adequate funds to teach English. But Hogan conceded he believes the proposal adopted by the Republican-controlled Legislature in May would not have complied with the court order even if it had not been vetoed by the governor.
An alternative offered by Napolitano in June has been termed unacceptable by the GOP leadership.
"After five-and-a-half years, it is clear that establishing deadlines is not an effective means of enforcing the state’s compliance with the Equal Education Opportunities Act of 1974 and this court’s judgment,’’ Hogan wrote.
He said the approximately 185,000 students classified as English language learners "are not learning English and they are not progressing academically.’’ As proof, he said about 80 percent of these students in high school have failed the AIMS test required for graduation.
"The system that’s been in place during that period of time is one of state-sanctioned failure and must end now before any more students are lost to the state’s indifference,’’ Hogan said.
Hogan said withholding highway funds for a violation of federal education laws is far more appropriate than slashing federal education aid. And he said it will get legislators’ attention.
"If there is one thing that the state cares about, it is building roads and highways,’’ Hogan said.
"After all, new roads and highways provide the arteries for growth upon which the Arizona economy depends,’’ he continued.
A different federal judge ruled more than five years ago that Arizona was not complying with federal laws mandating that states ensure all students learn English. At that time, lawmakers more than doubled the funds to about an extra $350 for each student involved.
But the court said there was no evidence that was what was necessary to do the job. And Collins in January gave lawmakers until the end of this legislative session to come up with a fix.
The bill approved this year added about another $75 for one year —but then required each school district to come up with plans, figure its costs and then apply for funding from the state.
Napolitano vetoed that measure as inadequate, leaving the state out of compliance. And with no talk of a special session, Hogan said Collins now needs to step in.
Tully said every legislator wants to ensure all students learn English. But he said it is wrong to presume that more school money is the answer.