Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Legislative failure gives case to judge

Citizen Staff Writer

It is not unusual to hear legislators carping about “activist judges” who use their authority to “legislate from the bench.”

But in Arizona, the people we elect to set state policy by legislating have failed to do so. So now a federal judge has been forced to step into that void to make a major policy decision for the state.

This is not what should happen. Our elected leaders – notably, those in the Legislature – have completely failed us.

And more important, they have failed the thousands of Arizona children who did not grow up speaking English.

Last week, under pressure from a federal judge who imposed fines that reached $1 million a day, the Legislature passed a bill to increase funding for English-language learning programs.

Despite the judge’s threats, Gov. Janet Napolitano had rightly vetoed three earlier attempts to resolve this issue because legislative proposals were packed with unrelated dogma while failing to appropriate enough money to teach English.

Last week, Napolitano finally gave up and let the latest version become law without her signature. Despite lengthy negotiations, legislative leaders and the governor could not reach agreement. So now it is up to U.S. District Judge Raner Collins to decide if the bill is adequate.

This is an exceptionally complex issue that will take time for Collins to review. Nonetheless, we hope he acts as quickly as possible to accept or reject the proposal.

We think the legislative plan is inadequate for a number of reasons. Should Collins agree, we hope he provides some direction to the Legislature so future negotiations have a starting point.

Napolitano, in a letter to legislative leaders, outlined some problems with this bill:

• Per-student funding for English learning would increase from $355 a year now to $432 under the new plan. An increase is needed, but where did that figure come from? Napolitano points out the amount does not “bear any rational relationship to the actual cost of implementing a successful language acquisition program.”

• Students are limited to two years of English-language learning although a study found that three years is needed to give a student the best chance to succeed. After two years of English learning, students may not be able to pass AIMS.

• State funding provided to school districts for English-language learners would reduce other federal funds by the same amount. That simply isn’t fair to schools.

When Napolitano pointed out shortcomings in the bill, legislative leaders sent out a news release accusing her of “sabotage.” But it is legislators who have sabotaged educational opportunities for thousands of Arizona children.

Legislators don’t like it when judges make policy decisions. In this case, their inaction has forced a federal judge’s hand.

Bike downtown

There are 150 new parking spots downtown – and every one of them is free.

There is, however, a catch: The spots are available only to bicycle riders.

The city, with $8,000 from a federal grant, is installing 150 new bike racks around downtown.

That’s a good adjunct to downtown revitalization efforts. And it’s the kind of downtown parking the city ought to be encouraging as an alternative to cars.

You now can leave your car at home while still enjoying what downtown has to offer.

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