A federal judge on Friday gave the state 15 days after the legislative session begins next month to finally comply with his order to properly fund English-language programs or face fines of $500,000 per day.
U.S. District Judge Raner Collins of Tucson also ruled that the state cannot require students officially classified as “English language learners” to pass the AIMS tests to graduate from high school.
Those are students who came to school speaking a different language and aren’t proficient in English.
Collins said it has been nearly six years since another judge concluded Arizona is not complying with federal laws to ensure all students learn English. And he noted his own order last January setting a deadline for compliance by the end of the last legislative session, which came and went without resolution.
Collins’ new order makes it clear he is running out of patience. The $500,000 daily penalty starts if there is no resolution by Jan. 24. Failure to act by Feb. 23 boosts the penalty to $1 million a day, going to $1.5 million 30 days after that.
And if legislators adjourn without an acceptable plan in law, then the state will have to pay $2 million a day.
But Collins opted not to put anyone behind bars, saying that is “not an appropriate remedy at this time.”
As for the AIMS test, the judge was told that more than 80 percent of students designated as English-language learners have failed to pass all three sections of the test required to get a diploma, compared with about 26 percent statewide.
Attorney Tim Hogan, who represents parents of English learners who sued over the issue, said it’s not fair to penalize these students, because the state has never properly funded English-language programs.
The superintendent said Collins’ ruling is a double insult because much of the problem is caused by the failure of the U.S. government to control the border, resulting in a large number of illegal entrants and their children in Arizona schools.
Horne also decried the decision to let the English learners get diplomas without passing the AIMS tests.
“It gives them a meaningless diploma that is a product of seat time rather than academic achievement,” he said. “To tell these students that they’re going to get a diploma even though they can’t speak English and then have them compete in the economy is a terrible way to mislead the students themselves.”