A federal judge ruled Arizona is discriminating against students
with limited English skills by skimping on funding for them.
As a result, many students with limited English proficiency are
instructed by unqualified teachers – a violation of federal law.
Judge Alfredo Marquez of U.S. District Court in Tucson made the
ruling Monday on a class-action lawsuit filed against the state by
Nogales Unified School District parents.
Marquez declined to throw out the AIMS high school graduation
test, which was also challenged on the basis that it discriminates
against minority students.
It’s now up to the Legislature to adequately fund bilingual
education and English as a Second Language programs.
The ruling set no deadline.
Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, D-Phoenix, is hoping the ruling will spur
lawmakers to support his proposal to boost funding for the state’s
113,000 students with limited English proficiency.
His bill seeks $621 per limited-English student, costing a total
of about $60 million. The state currently gives schools roughly $150
extra to educate those children.
“It’s an excellent first set of steps,” said Bill Morris, attorney
for the Nogales parents. “It would go far in the right direction.”
But lawmakers have little money to put into more popular education
initiatives, such as an extended school year and programs to help
students pass the graduation test.
Programs like bilingual education are not at the top of the
Republican-controlled Legislature’s list. Some lawmakers believe they
deserve less money, not more.
Sen. John Huppenthal, chairman of the Senate Education Committee,
said the current system rewards schools for failure. Districts
receive the extra money until those students pass a series of tests
proving they have mastered English.
Huppenthal, R-Chandler, said he has yet to decide if his committee
will consider Lopez’s bill.
“Now we have to take this lemon ruling and we’ll see if can make
some lemonade out of it,” Huppenthal said.
Lisa Graham Keegan, state superintendent of public instruction,
supports increased funding for limited-English students, but does not
plan to lobby for new money this session, said her spokeswoman,
In the August trial on the 7-year-old case, the plaintiffs brought
up a 1988 study that showed it cost districts at least $450 per
student then to educate limited-English students.
Marquez ruled that the $150 the state pays is “arbitrary and
“(The) state has failed to follow through with practices,
resources and personnel necessary to transform theory into reality,”
the ruling states.
Because of the shortage of funding, the Nogales district has few
qualified teachers, crowded classes, inadequate tutoring and
insufficient materials, the ruling states. About 60 percent of
Nogales’ 6,000 students are classified as limited in English
Although state law requires teachers of limited-English students
to undergo special training, about 160 of the district’s 300 teachers
are qualified. The district regularly kicks in money from other areas
to pay for bilingual-education programs.
Analizabeth Doan, Nogales’ bilingual-education director, said she
hopes the ruling will pour more money into the district and others.
That will help mostly with teacher training and recruiting.
“It’s a beginning after seven years,” Doan said. “It is a
beginning, hopefully, of a change in the state.”
Other districts, including Tucson Unified, would also benefit from
the ruling. About 11,000 students among the district’s 64,000 are
limited in English skills.
Leonard Basurto, TUSD’s bilingual-education director, said the
argument that districts keep students in programs to get extra money
is wrong. On the contrary, TUSD regularly puts more money than the
state gives into bilingual education.
“The ruling is saying precisely that – that it’s costing school
districts more to fund these programs than the state is providing,”
Basurto said. “So the argument is completely negated by this court
On the other argument in the case, Marquez ruled there was
insufficient evidence that Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards,
the test that high school seniors will have to pass to graduate, is
biased against minority students.
At the time of the August trial, the first results of AIMS had yet
to be released.
So the plaintiffs relied on a study of Stanford 9 standardized
test scores of minority students in Phoenix Union High School
District, which the judge stated “does not provide a meaningful
The AIMS results released in November, though, clearly show
minorities performed worse than Anglos. About 3 percent of black,
Hispanic and American Indian sophomores passed the 12th-grade level
math test, compared with about 14 percent of Anglos.
Although Marquez ruled in favor of AIMS this time, Morris said he
is contemplating filing another lawsuit to challenge it, using the
“I think that’s the core evidence that the judge was looking for,”
Education reporter Sarah Tully Tapia can be reached at 573-4117
and by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org