PHOENIX – As state officials try to settle a partially
successful lawsuit that challenges bilingual education programs as
inadequate, legislative efforts to move in the same direction stalled.
The Senate Education Committee rejected a bill (SB1242) on Thursday
that would have bolstered English learning programs to help implement
the proposed settlement.
That leaves state officials still negotiating proposed requirements
for the Department of Education and local school districts to add new
testing, monitoring and other requirements but without new funding to
pay for them.
“This would have moved us forward,” state Superintendent of Public
Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan said.
The proposed settlement would resolve portions of the lawsuit not
covered by a federal judge’s ruling last week that Arizona is
underfunding bilingual education in violation of federal laws on civil
rights and equal opportunities in education.
Keegan said the state will not appeal the ruling by U.S. District
Judge Alfredo Marquez in Tucson.
The state’s lawyer in the lawsuit, Assistant Attorney General Lynne
C. Adams, told the committee Marquez did not order the state to increase
funding but may be asked to do so by the lawsuit plaintiffs.
In cases elsewhere, federal judges have ordered states to raise taxes
to pay for certain things, Adams said.
The bill rejected by the Senate committee would have quadrupled the
state’s current $18 million funding of bilingual education. It also
would have adopted new requirements on the same areas as the proposed
settlement and many others, including parents’ rights.
The committee’s 4-5 vote was by party lines, majority Republicans
voting against the bill and minority Democrats for it.
Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, said he objected to increased state
mandates at the expense of local control.
Sen. Ken Bennett criticized a state funding system that he said leads
to labeling of students.
“We’re already taking (funding) from some students somewhere to
deliver the services to these students,” said Bennett, a Prescott
Republican and a former president of the state Board of Education.
Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, a Phoenix Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, said
other lawmakers’ money concerns are legitimate.
“Nevertheless, it is a civil rights issue,” Lopez said. “It puts a
burden on school districts whether we pass this legislation or not.”
Keegan said after the hearing she supported the bill but that
Huppenthal had asked that she not testify on its behalf.
She said the bill’s failure means the issue is being decided in the
courts, not at the Legislature.
The draft settlement is a proposed consent order that would be
submitted to Marquez for his approval once finished. It would set
specific test scores to determine whether a student needs bilingual
education. It also would strengthen requirements for learning plans for
individual students and would have the state assess at least 22
districts’ programs each year.
Adams and William F. Morris, a lawyer for the Nogales families who
filed the lawsuit, said in separate interviews earlier this week that
the biggest unresolved issue centers on teacher training.
The plaintiffs want teachers of bilingual education students to have
special training and certification, but the state has balked.
There is a shortage of bilingual education teachers, and some rural
and poor districts have trouble competing for the available supply,
State officials, she said, “don’t want to agree to something they
don’t have the ability to meet.”
Morris said the shortage of bilingual education teachers is related
to money. “We think we have the answer to that question” with Marquez’s
ruling, he said.