Arizona ELL Case Back in Court

Last Updated: September 28, 2010

This article appeared in the September 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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Flores v. Arizona, the federal lawsuit that charges the state is not fulfilling its educational obligations to English Language Learners (ELL) is back in an Arizona court this month after being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. An evidentiary hearing is underway in Tucson, where the state is defending its four-hour daily intensive language instruction program implemented two years ago.

The original class action lawsuit was brought in 1992. It claimed that the state was violating the Equal Educational Opportunities Act by failing to provide sufficient funding for Arizona’s programs for ELL students.

Initially, the Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and fined the state millions of dollars for not complying with a Court order to implement new programs. However, the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the decision. In remanding the case, the Supreme Court said the lower court should take into consideration changes to the ELL program and additional funding the state had provided since the previous ruling. Those changes include replacing the state’s bilingual education approach with a 4-hour daily English immersion program required for all students not yet proficient in English.

In the meantime, federal civil rights officials have found that Arizona’s home language survey and English-proficiency test violates students’ civil rights after the state reduced the required survey to only one question: “What is the primary language of the student?” The Departments of Education and Justice found that this question fails to accurately identify all ELL students who need services, and that as a result of changes to the survey ELL identifications in the state were significantly reduced, effectively denying many students their right to equal participation.

Arizona’s proficiency tests were also found to be inaccurate measures of students’ ability to speak English. The Departments found that many students were moved prematurely into the mainstream and were not performing up to academic standards as a result. Flores plaintiff lawyer Tim Horne has agreed to allow federal officials to pursue those findings and will not be making related claims in the court case.

Read more:
Local coverage:

Coverage of the federal investigation into Arizona’s ELL programs:

History of the Flores case up to the involvement of the U.S. Supreme Court:

Read more from the September 2010 Rural Policy Matters.