This school funding case was filed on August 20, 1992 in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. The plaintiffs, several students and their parents, claimed that the state failed to adequately fund programs for English language learners (ELLs). In 2000, the district court found that state's method and level of funding ELL programs was "arbitrary and capricious" and ordered that the level of state funding for ELL programs bear a rational relationship to the cost of those programs. The parties reached an agreement in 2002, and the court ordered a costing-out study. In January 2004, plaintiffs filed a motion for contempt due to the alleged failure of the state to comply.
In January 2005, after numerous delays by the state, the court ordered additional ELL funding. The state's failure to comply led to a December 2005 order and daily fines that mounted to $21 million before the state enacted additional funding in early March 2006. Moreover, the court enjoined the state from requiring ELL students to pass the state exit exam in order to get a diploma.
In August 2006, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Flores v. Rzeslawski, vacated the 2005 district court judgment and remanded the case so the district court could hold "an evidentiary hearing and ma[k]e findings of fact regarding whether changed circumstances required modification of the [January 2000] court order or otherwise ha[ve] a bearing on the appropriate remedy."
In March 2007 Judge Raner Collins of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that Arizona is still illegally under-funding programs directed towards English learners, that it is in violation of multiple federal laws, and that $600 million of federal education funding that Arizona receives may be in jeopardy.
The ruling invalidated HB 2064, the funding formula passed by the Arizona legislature in response to the court's earlier decision. HB 2064, which would raise the amount of funding directed for ELL programs from $365 to $444 per pupil, Judge Collins ruled, is insufficient to meet the needs of ELL students. The formula, he noted, provides significantly less than was recommended by a court-ordered cost study completed in 2005.
According to the federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA), under which the court struck down HB 2064, states are required to ensure that all students, regardless of native language, have the opportunity for "equal participation" in public education. The insufficient funding, Judge Collins, ruled, violates this federal law.
Judge Collins also ruled HB 2064 illegal for other reasons. First, it mandates that schools can only receive the additional funding for a student for two years. The record in the case showed that many ELL students take longer - often four or five years - to become proficient in English. In addition, the bill stipulates that districts are required to use a portion of their Title I, Title II, and Title III federal funds to pay for ELL services before they get state aid. All of these federal funds are given under the condition that they will "supplement not supplant" state monies; accordingly, this requirement is illegal and jeopardizes the $600 million in federal funding that Arizona receives, the court ruled.
Judge Collins ordered the state to comply with the 2000 order by the end of the 2007 legislative session, but the legislature failed to do so. On October 11, 2007, Judge Collins issued a contempt order, giving the legislature until March 4, 2008 to bring ELL funding into compliance or face sanctions. Meanwhile, the state appealed Judge Collins' order to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
On February 22, 2008, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court judgment in favor of plaintiffs. The court found that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) did not relieve states of the obligation to adhere to the mandates of the EEOA. According to the court, this means that even if Arizona could show that its schools are making "adequate yearly progress" toward improving overall academic achievement, individual students still have the right to bring civil rights claims under the EEOA. Describing the distinction between the two federal laws at issue, the court wrote, "The EEOA's concerns...lie fundamentally with the current rights of individual students, while NCLB seeks gradually to improve their schools." The court went on to explain the ramifications of a decision in favor of the State: "[Its] view, if adopted, would effectively repeal the EEOA by replacing its equality-based framework with the gradual remedial framework of NCLB." Based on the foregoing, the court held that "it is not inequitable to continue to require compliance" with the district court order.
In September 2008, the defendants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' holding that the state was not meeting its legal obligation to English-language learners.
On November 3, 2008, the District Court began further hearings on compliance issues.
On January 9, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of lower-court rulings that the state was not abiding by federal law and was not adequately funding programs for English-language learners. In Horne v. Flores, 129 S. Ct. 2579 (2009), the Supreme Court reversed. It held that the District Court and Court of Appeals improperly evaluated the case by simply deciding whether a previous order had been satisfied. They went on to explain that the defendants could also be relieved from the previous order in the event that changed circumstances made its enforcement inequitable. On remand, the Supreme Court directed the District Court to examine (1) whether the State's switch to structured English emersion constituted a changed circumstance which would warrant relief, (2) whether the provisions of NCLB constituted a changed circumstance which would warrant relief, (3) whether Arizona's efforts to reduce class sizes, teacher to student ratios and teacher quality constituted changed circumstances which would warrant relief, and (4) whether Arizona's increased funding to ELL constituted a changed circumstance which would warrant relief. Furthermore, the Court directed the District Court to re-examine the alleged state-wide noncompliance with the EEOA, as there were neither factual findings nor evidence on record supporting that allegation.
The 9th Circuit supplemented this order on September 1, 2009 by vacating the District Court's contempt order and award of attorneys' fees.
On March 28, 2013, Judge Collins granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's statewide claims. Judge Collins, in granting the defendants' motion to dismiss and vacating the Jan. 24, 2000 judgment, stated that the factual basis of the case had changed: the adoption of Structured English Immersion methodology; the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, structural and management reforms; and an increase in overall education funding. Further, the plaintiffs advanced only one statewide claim, alleging that the implementation of the "four hour model" (an ESL model requiring four hours of language instruction per day, in this case being applied differently throughout the state) constituted a statewide EEOA violation. Judge Collins concluded that, because the plaintiffs only presented evidence from a few school districts, they did not establish standing to bring a statewide claim. Judge Collins held that the plaintiff's "statewide" claim required, instead, district-by-district analysis. The plaintiff appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where oral argument was held in January 2015.
In June 2015, The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its mandate. Based on the record, the court found that the plaintiff's challenge to the four hour model failed on its merits. The 9th Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that ELLs are appropriately exposed to the necessary academic content at some point during their education. Furthermore, the plaintiff's claims of ELLs segregation were unsupported by the evidence. The four hour model was a relatively recent program and there was not a lot of evidence on ELL performance; based on the evidence that did exist however, the 9th Circuit affirmed that the plaintiffs could not show their challenges to the program required maintaining an injunction. The district court's vacation of the injunction was affirmed. If new EEOA violations emerged, however, a new lawsuit could be brought. Joshua Arocho - 07/17/2012
Kevin Nomura - 03/02/2015
Carolyn Weltman - 02/21/2016