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Another Chapter in the Saga Over How to Pay for ELL Programs in Arizona

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Some of you might remember that about this time last year, Arizona had racked up nearly $21 million in federal fines because the state's Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, couldn't agree on how to meet a federal court order in the case of Flores v. Arizona to pay adequately for the education of English-language learners.

The stalemate finally was broken when Gov. Napolitano permitted to become law--without her signature--a measure approved by the legislature last spring to address the problem. But U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins then rejected the law, saying it didn't bear a "rational relationship to the cost of providing ELL programs," according to court documents.

Tom Horne, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction, appealed the judge's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco. In July, the appeals court reversed Judge Collins' orders and ordered the judge to hold an "evidentiary hearing" on whether the legislature's plan provided adequate funding. The appeals court also erased Judge Collins' order for the $21 million in fines to be distributed; Arizona doesn't have to pay them.

Last month, with an 8-day evidentiary hearing behind him, Judge Collins came to the same conclusion that he had earlier: that the law that increases to $444 from $365 the extra funds that schools get to teach each English-language learner is not adequate.

The legislature intends to appeal the decision, Barrett Marson, the press secretary for James P. Weiers, a Republican and the Speaker of the Arizona House, told me last week in an interview for Education Week.

Let me pause to say that I believe I'm not being too dramatic to characterize this ongoing news story as a "saga." In its March 23 article about the recent ruling, the Arizona Republic included a time line concerning important news regarding Flores v. Arizona dating back to 1992, when it was first filed. It's been seven years since the federal court ruled that Arizona didn't adequately pay for programs for English-language learners. (For another take on this news story, see this article by KVOA News 4.)

In the March 22 ruling, the judge gave Arizona lawmakers until the end of their current legislative session--likely to occur later this month or in May--to come up with a solution.

Timothy M. Hogan, the executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in Flores v. Arizona, told me in a phone interview last week that he was happy with Judge Collins' latest decision, but he added, "This is silly going back to court all the time. I'm interested in getting resources to these kids sooner rather than later."

1 Comment

The 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco that overturned Judge Collins is the most liberal federal Court of Appeals, which makes the overturn all the more surprising. The state of AZ may have a strong case.
On the other hand, the 9th Circuit (sometimes referred to as the 9th Circus) is the Court of Appeals that is most frequently overturned by the US Supreme Court. So it's hard to make any inferences from what has happened about the eventual outcome of this saga.
What is most important is that the state is providing a supplement to districts for the teaching of English to ELLs.

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