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Appeals Court Backs Order for Arizona to Boost English-Language Instruction

A federal appeals court has ruled that Arizona must comply with a lower-court ruling that says the state must do more to adequately fund instruction for English-language learners.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, issued its unanimous 91-page ruling late on Feb. 22 in Flores v. State of Arizona.

The Associated Press reports on the decision here, and my Education Week colleague Mary Ann Zehr discusses the ruling in her Learning the Language blog here.

Much of the ruling deals with the lengthy history of the lawsuit by families over the adequacy of Arizona's support for English instruction. But one particular section of the 9th Circuit panel's ruling caught my attention.

The state argued that the No Child Left Behind Act's provisions on English-language learners altered its legal obligations and should be enough to satisfy the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974, the federal statute under which the Arizona families brought their lawsuit in 1992.

The EEOA says states may not deny equal education opportunity to an individual by "the failure of an educational agency to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students in its instructional programs."

The appeals court wasn't buying it.

The state's arguments "would effectively repeal the EEOA by replacing its equality-based framework with the gradual remedial framework of NCLB," the appeals court said. The EEOA is a civil rights statute with an individual right to sue to enforce its guarantees, and nothing in the NCLB expressly repealed the earlier law, the court said.

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