Arizona’s Tom Horne Sues the Federal Government Over ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 23, 2008 1 min read
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Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has refiled a lawsuit in federal court that he had filed in July 2006 against the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. The lawsuit alleges that the federal education department reneged on an oral agreement it had made in 2003 with the Arizona Department of Education concerning the inclusion of test scores of English-language learners in the accountability system of the No Child Left Behind Act.

According to the lawsuit filed last Friday, Arizona education officials agreed back in 2003 to follow federal regulations to include ELLs in state mathematics and reading tests used to comply with Title I under the No Child Left Behind Act. But the lawsuit says that federal education officials also agreed to give Arizona officials the discretion to let school districts that weren’t able to make adequate yearly progress for English-language learners under NCLB the chance to appeal to the state to drop the scores for ELLs “within the first three years of English instruction at the school solely for AYP calculation purposes.”

Arizona officials took advantage of the agreement and granted such appeals, thus permitting school districts to exclude the test scores of some ELLs. In April 2005, the U.S. Department of Education audited Arizona’s compliance with the federal education law and then said that state officials would have to stop the practice. Federal officials thus backed out on the 2003 agreement, according to the lawsuit.

Mr. Horne put out a press release today saying that the July 2006 lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that the complaint had to first be made to Ms. Spellings. Since she didn’t change her mind on the matter, the press release says, he’s refiling the complaint in federal court.

The complaint asks the court for various kinds of relief, including the reimbursement of federal and state money that has been spent by schools on school improvement because of test scores of ELLs with less than three years of English instruction. It asks that the U.S. Department of Education declare it breached its oral agreement.

June 24 Update: Here’s The Arizona Republic‘s take on the story.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.