SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The 9th Circuit ruled that Arizona’s latest educational law aimed at ending longstanding litigation over the state’s inadequate funding of English-language learner programs does not fully comply with previous court orders.
The ruling stems from a 1992 class action filed by parents who claimed the state funding of English-language instruction was grossly inadequate.
In January 2000 the district court ordered the state to get its funding program into compliance with the Equal Educational Opportunity Act. But after eight years of stalling on court orders to conduct cost studies and to apply those results, “Arizona has still not satisfied the terms of that judgment, nor complied with the bulk of the injunctions entered against it as a result of that ruling,” the appeals court concluded.
A study conducted by the National Conference of State Legislatures and commissioned by the state Legislature determined in 2005 that the state spent about $670 per student in incremental costs, when it needed to be spending between $1,450 and $1,785 per student. But the state never brought its system into line with the cost data, forcing the court to set an April 30, 2005 deadline for Arizona to “appropriately and constitutionally” fund the state’s ELL programs.
Again, Arizona failed to act before the deadline. The district court held the state in civil contempt, deploring the fact that “(t)housands of children who have now been impacted by the state’s inadequate funding of ELL programs had yet to begin school when Plaintiffs filed this case.” It set another deadline and imposed a schedule of fines that would accrue if Arizona did not act.
Arizona racked up more than $20 million in fines through inaction.
Finally, in 2006, Gov. Janet Napolitano allowed HB 2064 – the Legislature’s attempt to create a compliant funding system – to become law without her signature.
In a 91-page opinion, Judge Berzon wrote that while HB 2064 may have improved conditions, as funding increased between 2000 and 2006, the law does not comply with the original judgment. Despite the expanded infrastructure and budget, Arizona’s ELL students still fail to meet the requirements of state academic standards and the No Child Left Behind Act. Further, HB 2064 establishes a two-year funding cutoff that renders the law inadequate and includes grant programs that violate federal education funding law. The court added that, were Arizona to drop those provisions, there’s reason to hope for a resolution to a dispute that’s “been in the courts longer than it takes a student to go from kindergarten to college.”