Judge orders prompt action by state on bilingual education

PHOENIX—Criticizing proposed additional years of delay, a judge on Friday ordered the state to quickly study how much it would cost to bolster underfunded bilingual education programs.

Senior District Judge Alfredo Marquez ordered that the study results be ready for legislators when they start work on the next state budget in January.

“The only answer we can come up with right now is we’ll go faster,” state Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan said. “I don’t think it will be as meaningful a number.”

Marquez ruled in January that state underfunding of bilingual education violates federal laws on civil rights and equal funding of education. The case stems from a lawsuit filed against the state by parents in the Nogales Unified School District.

The Education Department had proposed that it go to the Legislature during next year’s session to get $300,000 for the study, which would be finished by mid-2002. The Legislature then would consider bilingual education funding needs in 2003 when it approves the next two-year budget.

“The court is not surprised” by the proposed delay, Marquez wrote, citing the years it took the Legislature to replace an unconstitutional system for school construction finance.

However, the state’s “brazen argument” that it needs more time to study the effectiveness of various bilingual education methods ignores that state-approved methods are generally regarded as sound if properly funded, Marquez wrote.

The problem, he wrote, is that the state has not provided adequate funding for teachers, teacher aides, classrooms, tutoring and instruction material in bilingual education and general courses.

Marquez noted that legislators this year rejected several proposals to proceed with the study and to fund it.

“Contrary to the information provided this court in January of 2000, the state has not even taken the first step of conducting the cost study,” he wrote.

Tim Hogan, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, welcomed the order. “This is another case where the Legislature is ignoring their responsibility,” he said.

Keegan said the state will not appeal. “We’re arguing over a timeline. We don’t disagree that these kids have been left behind. Where we disagree is what is most effective for these kids.”

Marquez noted that Arizona voters will decide in November whether to dismantle bilingual education. He said the cost study still would be needed because students would be put in one-year English-immersion programs in Proposition 203 passes.

The state in June settled much of the lawsuit by promising to strengthen policies on testing, individual plans for students and monitoring of schools’ efforts.

Marquez plans further proceedings on a remaining part of the case: the lawsuit’s demand that teachers of students learning English have special training and certification.

The state agrees they should but contends that a short supply of such teachers makes it impossible for the state to guarantee they can be provided.

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