Now comes more evidence revealing how sorely Arizona lags in educating limited-English students. A new state report shows only 5.5 percent of 132,806 students qualified last year to transfer into mainstream classes.

Limited-English students performed at their best ever in testing, but they still didn’t make it up to the state average. Obviously, they need more help.

Some challenge the test results for not being up to date. Yet that doesn’t change the fact that these children need more attention.

That was clearly trumpeted in a District Court judge’s ruling last month when he found that the $150 the state pays for their special classes is arbitrary and capricious. What is needed, said Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, a Phoenix Democrat, is $620 per student. That is reasonable considering a study 11 years ago said the need per student was $450.

Lopez has a bill that has foundered in the Legislature because Republicans resist higher funding for bilingual and English as a Second Language classes. Despite all the evidence, boosted by a federal court ruling, there is little interest in proper funding levels for limited-English students.

Instead, it turns out that funding dropped by half for limited- English education last year. Money comes from a variety of sources, not just the state’s allocation. But in 1998-99, an average of $1,589 was spent on each pupil, down from $3,210 the previous year. The drop happened because 20,000 more limited-English students came into schools, and at the same time the programs lost $150 million in federal, state and local money.

Arizona also has a significant problem with teacher qualifications for LEP classes. There were 3,634 LEP teachers without credentials in English as a Second Language or bilingual education in the 1999 school year, up from 2,490 the previous year. In short, limited- English education in Arizona needs a lot of attention. And the Legislature is backing off from it.

The attorney who handled the Nogales class action suit resulting in the judge’s ruling said he’ll go back to court if the Legislature doesn’t act this session.

And this is how too many policy issues are handled in Arizona. The Legislature fails to tackle problems – education and mental-health care are two examples. The matter ends up in court, and then lawmakers are forced to draw up remedies that may not be satisfactory, either. Doing it right in the beginning never seems to dawn on them.

Catching up with funding won’t be easy, but the mandate is clear. It’s the will that’s missing. Perhaps we’ll see it in court – again.

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