Immigration Issue Plays Out in Arizona Education Fight

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Feb 3 13:40:14 UTC 2006

>>From the NYTimes, February 3, 2006

Immigration Issue Plays Out in Arizona Education Fight

PHOENIX, Jan. 31 Arizona's Democratic governor and its
Republican-controlled Legislature are locked in an election-year stalemate
over the teaching of English and how much to pay for it. On the surface,
the debate is straightforward: how to help the state's 154,000
public-school children whose native language is other than English in
almost all cases it is Spanish catch up with their peers, as required by a
federal court order.

But below the surface is the matter that underlies most political debates
in Arizona: illegal immigration, expected to be the marquee issue in the
November elections. While school officials estimate that as many as 75
percent of the state's non-English-speaking students are American-born
citizens, most of their parents are immigrants, many in this country
illegally. "There is a significant anti-immigrant animus propelling a lot
of the sentiment in the Legislature right now," Gov. Janet Napolitano said
in an interview. "They are angry about the taxpayer dollars that are being
used to educate illegal immigrants or the children of illegal immigrants."

Representative Stephen Tully, the majority leader of the Arizona House,
denied anti-immigrant sentiment. "Certainly a lot of these kids are in the
country illegally, or their parents are, but that's not the issue," Mr.
Tully said. "They're here, and we need them to learn English." The problem
instead, he said, is that the governor's proposal lacks any incentive for
the schools to complete the task quickly, since they would be financed on
a per-pupil basis rather than by a block grant.

To meet the requirements of the court order, Ms. Napolitano has proposed
spending $45 million a year to expand English-language instruction in
Arizona's public schools. Beginning Wednesday, the state is being assessed
a fine of at least $500,000 a day until it complies with that order, and
the governor, seeking a kind of down payment on her plan, has asked the
court to direct the proceeds of the fine to English-language immersion
programs for schoolchildren. Mr. Tully and other Republican lawmakers
suggest that the governor is using the court order as an excuse to throw
money at a problem that can be solved more cheaply; they have proposed $14
million. Some Republicans also contend that her proposal would shortchange
non-immigrant Arizonans and encourage immigrants to cross the border
illegally to take advantage of the state's public services.

As part of their negotiating strategy on the legislation, Republicans have
attached riders that would create tax credits for corporations that
contribute to private and parochial schools, a way of subsidizing
private-school choice for parents who do not want to send their children
to public schools. The governor has vetoed the measures three times,
saying the tax credits would be excessive. Her staff has calculated their
cost at $50 million a year, though the Republicans say it would be much
less. Ms. Napolitano has proposed a much smaller program of tax credits
that would expire in five years. Political analysts say the fight is also
an effort by Republicans to scuff up the popular Democratic governor at
the onset of the election year. Ms.  Napolitano, who is up for re-election
in November and has all but formally declared her candidacy, is soaring in
the polls, and the Republicans have yet to find a credible candidate to
challenge her.

"This whole education fight is clearly a proxy for the immigration
debate," said Bruce Merrill, a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of
Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. "A lot of
people here feel if you don't build it, they won't come." That was the
idea behind two ballot measures approved by Arizona voters.  One,
Proposition 203, which passed in 2000, essentially outlaws bilingual
education in public schools. It requires classes to be taught in English
only, forcing schools to provide remedial help for non-English speakers.

The other, Proposition 200, approved in 2004, denied some benefits to
illegal immigrants, though the courts have blocked parts of it. The
current financing dispute dates from 1992, when the Arizona Center for Law
in the Public Interest sued on behalf of 100,000 non-English-speaking
children who were receiving no language help in the schools and were
lagging in achievement as a result. In early 2000, a court ruled for the
plaintiffs and ordered the state to come up with a realistic estimate of
the costs and to provide an adequate sum for English-language programs.

The Legislature deadlocked on both the study and the financing, and last
year a federal district judge in Tucson, Raner C. Collins, ordered the
state to enact a workable English Language Learners program, or E.L.L., if
it was to avoid fines beginning at $500,000 a day and escalating to $2
million a day. Governor Napolitano convened a special session for the
Legislature to take up the measure in January, but she and the lawmakers
reached an impasse over the amount to be spent and the corporate tax

The governor said the issue was not money the state is running a $1
billion surplus but rather bad blood between her and the Legislature and a
frustration with the federal government's failure to enforce the nation's
immigration laws. Arizonans, she said, are tired of bearing the cost of
what many consider unchecked illegal immigration. "But my question is,
What do you do with the children who are already here?" she said. "You
can't take a failed federal immigration policy out on the children. They
are just pawns in this." Mr. Tully, the House majority leader, said the
impasse had been building since the governor vetoed Republican bills
intended to address the issue last May, legislation for which, he said,
she had signaled support.  "There's just not a lot of trust there," he

Tim Hogan, executive director of the group that brought the 1992 lawsuit,
said that while politicians brawled, schoolchildren were being left
behind. He said that tens of thousands of non-English-speaking students
had entered Arizona schools since the suit was filed and that dropout
rates were rising because many of those children did not have a command of
English.  "The issue for me is simple," Mr. Hogan said. "Are you going to
educate them in compliance with the law or just kick them to the curb?"

Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

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