Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Az lawmakers seek shield on English order after failing to act

The Arizona Legislature adjourned its annual session without complying with a federal judge’s order to revamp programs for students learning the English language, but Republican lawmakers have asked an appellate court to temporarily shield the state from possible sanctions.

In an urgent motion filed before the Legislature adjourned its session Wednesday evening, the Republican legislative leaders asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins’ order on hold while the Legislature appeals.

Unless the 9th Circuit issues a stay, Collins “may force the state of Arizona to amend its laws by the threat of onerous fines,” the Republican leaders’ motion stated.

Collins had given the Legislature until the end of the session to comply with another judge’s 2000 order to provide adequate funding for English Language Learning programs.

A March 22 ruling by Collins found that funding for the state’s estimated 135,000 ELL students remained “arbitrary and capricious” under a 2006 law passed by the legislature. That law replaced the state’s method of extra per-student funding for ELL students with a new system based on state funding for new instructional models.

The legislative leaders asked Collins in April to put his compliance order on hold while the appeal is pending, but he has not ruled on that motion.

Tim Hogan, a lawyer for plaintiffs in a 1992 class-action lawsuit that challenged the adequacy of the state’s programs, said he would contest the leaders’ request that the 9th Circuit issue a stay. He said he will argue that the legislative leaders haven’t shown that their appeal will prevail.

At the same time, Hogan said, he plans to ask Collins to impose sanctions because the Legislature is in violation of the judge’s order.

He said he hadn’t decided what sanctions to seek but that they could include fines or withholding of federal highway dollars.

The lawsuit plaintiffs want to triple the state’s current per-student funding for ELL programs, a step that could translate into an additional $150 million annual expense once phased in.

Collins last year imposed $21 million in fines — later erased by the 9th Circuit — before lawmakers passed the 2006 legislation.

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