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Legislators: Extend deadline for English-learners funding

Republican legislative leaders asked a federal judge on Thursday for a six-week extension on a looming deadline for lawmakers to increase funding for instruction of students learning English. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said that’s too much time.

Tuesday is the deadline set by U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins last October when he ruled that a 2006 law revamping English Language Learning programs to use new instruction models doesn’t do enough to satisfy federal mandates for equal opportunities in education. He also ruled that several provisions violate federal laws.

Collins has threatened to impose unspecified sanctions if the Legislature doesn’t meet the deadline he set in the 16-year-old class-action case challenging the adequacy of Arizona’s English learners programs. He previously imposed $21 million of daily fines against the state in the same case, though the fines later were erased on appeal.

Reacting to a federal appeals court’s ruling Friday upholding Collins’ October order, lawyers for the legislative leaders defending the 2006 law asked that the deadline be extended to April 18.

“The relatively brief extension is necessary because of delays caused by a number of school districts that submitted inflated and incomplete funding requests,” the extension motion stated. “Moreover, at least half of the requests were submitted at the last possible minute, congesting the review process.”

The state Department of Education is still processing the 247 funding requests and hasn’t told the Legislature how much additional funding that districts and charter schools should get to start using the new procedures, the motion said.

That means the Legislature won’t know how much money is needed before Tuesday’s deadline, the motion said.

The delays were outside the control of the legislative leaders and “were unforeseen” when Collins issued his October order, the motion added.

But plaintiffs’ attorney Tim Hogan said the six-week request is unfounded because state Superintendent of Public Instruc-tion Tom Horne has already estimated the figure will range between $30 million and $50 million.

“So they’re in a position to comply with the court order. It’s not impossible. If that’s his estimate, then appropriate the money and they reconcile it after all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed,” Hogan said.

Hogan also said the lawmakers were aware of circumstances surrounding the late development of the models and of the Feb. 8 deadline for districts to submit funding requests.

Hogan said he was willing to accept only a two-week delay.

“The issue is getting the money out there so that school districts can hire teachers to implement these models,” he said. “That has to be done as quickly as possible.”

Consideration of the English-learners funding issue comes at a tough time for lawmakers because the state faces a revenue shortfall of up to $1.2 billion in the current $10.6 billion budget and an even larger projected deficit in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

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