Stalemate Is Broken on Paying for Education of Arizona’s English-Language Learners

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Gov. Janet Napolitano has decided to let a bill approved by the Arizona legislature spelling out how to pay for the education of English-language learners become law without her signature. Her decision breaks a stalemate between her and state lawmakers that has already cost the state $21 million in court-imposed fines, but puts the issue back in the hands of a federal judge.

“After nine months of meetings and three vetoes, it is time to take this matter to a federal judge,” the governor wrote in a March 3 letter to the legislature, explaining her decision. She said she had asked the state attorney general to seek an expedited decision by the U.S. District Court on the “legal sufficiency” of the measure.

In a December ruling, the federal court gave the state until Jan. 24 to find a way to adequately fund programs for the state’s 150,000 English-language learners, or be fined $500,000 a day for 30 days. The daily fine would increase to a maximum of $2 million if the state continued to fail to meet the deadlines.

Gov. Napolitano, a Democrat, noted in her letter that the state had accrued $21 million in fines by March 3, or about $140 per English-language learner. While she decided to let the bill become law, she wrote, “I do not believe this bill meets either the court’s multiple orders or our existing consent decree.”

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