Legislators see this as a macho showdown between them and a judge. They have forgotten the children of Arizona.
To those who have been following the Iliadlike saga of Arizona’s English language learner fight, this week’s judicial rejection of a proposed solution was no surprise.
But what is most disturbing is the macho posturing of legislative leaders who are vowing not to accede to the orders of a federal judge.
Proclamations by these legislators show they consider the ruling an affront to their manhood. They have forgotten that this case is about 154,000 Arizona children and the state’s failure to teach them English.
U.S. District Judge Raner Collins on Wednesday rejected the Legislature’s plan to improve instruction for Arizona students struggling to learn English.
The legislative plan would have increased extra per-pupil spending for English-learners from $358 this year to $432 next year – an amount Collins called “arbitrary and capricious.” He also noted that the higher figure was $18 less than what a study said was needed in 1988.
Gov. Janet Napolitano allowed the proposal to become law without her signature after she had vetoed three almost-identical legislative proposals. It then became clear that lawmakers would not budge, so the governor left it to Collins strike down the latest plan.
After Collins’ ruling, legislators should have vowed to try again. Indeed, state Senate Majority Whip Jay Tibshraeny, R-Chandler, took that position, saying, “Obviously we want to satisfy the order. We don’t have to be happy with the order.”
But legislative leaders chose to be defiant.
Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, said Napolitano and Attorney General Terry Goddard had “betrayed Arizona’s taxpayers” because they did not agree with legislators.
House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, puffed himself up and announced, “This judge assumes the Arizona Legislature is a pushover. Well, Judge Collins, not this speaker, not this Legislature.”
Bennett and Weiers have lost their focus. This case is not about either of them or about the Legislature. It is about an entire generation of children who have not adequately been taught English.
These are the next leaders of Arizona, and our legislators have failed them and thus have failed all of us.
Napolitano urged legislators to “see if we can get this out of the courts and into the classroom and get things fixed once and for all.”
Legislators must stop their finger-pointing, put away their crying towels and figure out how to address this very real problem. This is not a mano-a-mano showdown but an effort to fix a serious state failing.
The threat of fines
In December, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins ordered legislators to adequately fund English-language learning or face fines.
By the time legislators finally passed a plan, the fines had cost Arizona taxpayers $21 million and were accumulating at the rate of $1 million a day. The fight became further muddled when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that the fine money not be distributed pending a full hearing.
Now that Collins has rejected the inadequate legislative plan, will the fines again start accumulating? The lawyers who filed the original suit say yes. Legislative leaders say no. Because of that, they are in no rush to wade back into the issue.
It is shameful that legislators are willing to gamble with millions in state money in hopes that fines won’t start again. It is even more shameful that without the certainty of fines, they seem unwilling to even discuss the matter.
It should not take the threat of fines to persuade legislators to do what is right and just.