State lawmakers are asking a federal judge for a bit more time to comply w ith his order to fund programs to teach English.
In legal papers filed Thursday, Attorney Paul Neil who represents the Legislature said lawmakers cannot possibly meet the March 4 deadline set last year by U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins to have programs in place. He said some schools have been tardy in submitting the forms to the state seeking the necessary funds.
Ignoring that deadline comes with a risk: The judge already has said he might impose daily fines -- possibly up to $1 million a day -- if Arizona has not complied by that date.
Attorney Tim Hogan who represents the parents who first sued in 1992 said Thursday he doesn't understand the delay, given how long the state has known about the deadline.
Hogan said, though, he's willing to give lawmakers an extra two weeks -- but no more -- before he asks for sanctions.
Collins last year said he would accept the provisions of a 2006 law designed to bring Arizona into compliance with federal statutes requiring states to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn English. That law requires all schools to submit funding requests based on how much they believe it will cost them to teach students English based on models approved by the Department of Education.
That 2006 law then requires lawmakers to fund the requests after they have been screened by the state Department of Education.
Neil said Thursday some schools have not yet submitted their forms. He said that means it will not be possible for state School Superintendent Tom Horne to submit a budget request by this coming Tuesday, much less have funding in place.
Delay or not, the legal fight will continue.
The 2006 law reduces each school district's state funding by the amount of federal aid they are receiving for similar programs. Collins ruled last year that deduction is illegal, a conclusion upheld just this past Friday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Attorney David Cantelme, who also represents lawmakers, said lawmakers will have to fund the requests without the offset unless and until they can convince the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule Collins.
The difference is significant: Horne said he believes the cost to state taxpayers without that federal deduction could run as high as $50 million. But Horne said if Collins' order eventually is overturned the cost would be cut to about half of that. State education officials estimate there are about 130,000 students in Arizona schools who are classified as "English language learners,'' meaning they come to school speaking another language and are not yet proficient in English. That represents about one out of every seven children in public schools.