A federal judge late Thursday rejected the Arizona Legislature’s latest plan to fund programs to teach English, calling lawmakers’ efforts inadequate and illegal.
In a 16-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins said state officials still are not providing enough cash to comply with federal laws which require states to ensure that all children have an adequate opportunity to learn English.
On top of that, Collins said the legislation last year limits the additional state dollars to just two years, something he said federal law does not permit. More to the point, the judge said the evidence shows some students who come to school speaking a language other than English need more time than that to become proficient.
And, Collins said the legislation illegally requires that schools first divert some of their federal aid — money received for other purposes — before being eligible for additional cash, potentially jeopardizing the entire $600 million a year Arizona gets in federal education aid.
The judge gave lawmakers until the end of the current legislative session to come up with a solution.
Gov. Janet Napolitano, who agreed to let last year’s measure become law without her signature, said Thursday’s ruling is no surprise.
“The court has confirmed what I pointed out just over a year ago ... that (the measure) did not adequately address the problems of teaching our school children to read and write English,” she said in a prepared statement.
How much that would cost is unclear. Tim Hogan, attorney for the parents of Nogales Unified School District students who filed the original lawsuit in 1992, said it would cost close to $212 million for the estimated 135,000 students classified as “English language learners.” By contrast, the state is now spending less than $50 million; even the offered solution which Collins rejected brought that up to just about $60 million.
Senate President Tim Bee, R-Tucson, said he wants to study the ruling. House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, said more legal battles lie ahead.
The state currently provides schools an extra $365 per student in cash for English learners, meaning students not yet proficient in the language.