[lg policy] Supreme Court dismisses Arizona case that claimed schools failed English-deficient kids
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Fri Jun 26 13:57:45 UTC 2009
High court dismisses English-deficient students' case
Supreme Court dismisses case that claimed schools failed English-deficient kids
The 17-year-old case began in Nogales, Arizona, a border town
A federal judge agreed and ordered increased funding and federal oversight
Both sides seek help from high court in resolving political turf wars
updated 1:58 p.m. EDT, Thu June 25, 2009Next Article in U.S. »
By Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An English-language immersion class failed Miriam
Flores, her mother contended. A divided Supreme Court dismissed on
Thursday a 17-year-old suit filed on behalf of English-deficient
students. After two years of instruction in her native Spanish,
Miriam entered the Nogales, Arizona schools' English Language Learner
program as a third-grader. However, she continued to lag behind her
classmates and was cited as a disruptive influence in the classroom
because she often had to ask a fellow student for help.
The girl's mother, also named Miram Flores, and other minority parents
claimed school officials in Nogales, a border town about 70 miles
south of Tucson, did not provide enough money to get English-deficient
students up to speed in writing and reading comprehension. In 2000, a
federal judge agreed, concluding Arizona violated the Equal
Educational Opportunities Act, and ordering the state to rework its
plan and increase funding. The English Language Learner (ELL) program
was then placed under federal oversight.
On Thursday, a divided Supreme Court dismissed the 17-year-old
lawsuit, but ordered a federal judge to review whether Nogales
officials are "providing equal opportunities" to mainly
Spanish-speaking students in the community. Arizona maintained the
federal court injunction delayed its plans to fix the system. It
maintained it has provided enough resources to improve its ELL
program, allowing it to end federal oversight.
"Injunctions of this sort bind state and local officials to the policy
preferences of their predecessors," wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the
Some legislators claim a 2006 state law essentially eliminated
long-standing funding inequities. But parents say officials continue
to drag their feet when it comes to complying with an appropriate
classroom model for non-English-speaking students. Arizona says it
increased more than twofold the amount of money it spends per
non-English-speaking pupil, and that it has complied with the No Child
Left Behind Act, the sweeping public classroom accountability act
passed in 2002 that ties federal education funding to improvements in
measurable student achievement.
The current dispute has pitted the GOP-led state legislature and the
school superintendent against the Democratic governor and attorney
general, along with civil rights and teacher groups. Alito said a
federal law guaranteeing equal opportunity in public schools "is a
vitally important one, and our decision will not in any way undermine
efforts to achieve that goal." He added that if state officials
ultimately prevail in their reform efforts, "it will be because they
have shown that the Nogales School District is doing exactly what this
statute requires -- taking appropriate action to teach English to
students who grew up speaking another language."
Alito was backed by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin
Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. But in a lengthy dissent
-- parts of which were read from the bench -- Justice Stephen Breyer
said the ruling was "misguided," calling it "a mistaken effort to
drive a wedge between review of funding plan changes and review of
changes that would bring the state into compliance with federal law."
He was backed by Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and
The divided court seemed poised to issue a narrow ruling,
fact-specific to the ELL plan in Nogales. But groups on both sides of
the issue asked the high court for broader guidance on settling
state-federal conflicts involving institutional reform mandates,
especially those involving disadvantaged groups. Such political turf
battles often end up in the courts, and can lead to decades of federal
oversight, such as the fight over school desegregation beginning in
the 1950s. Against that backdrop is the continuing fight over
immigration and the responsibility of states to fund the education of
illegal immigrants and their children.
Miriam Flores is now an adult and a student at the University of Arizona.
The cases are Horne v. Flores (08-289) and Speaker of the Arizona
House of Representatives v. Flores (08-294).
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