Supreme Court Hears English-Language Case


Federal law mandates that schools take the necessary measures to ensure that all children attending school in America, no matter what their primary language, are proficient enough in English to receive a competitive education.

The law, enacted in 1974, includes as provision to sue in order to enforce that mandate, and the case of several students in an Arizona town has gone to the Supreme Court.

In the heavily-Hispanic town of Nogales, which is on the Mexican border, most children speak Spanish at home. Many are not proficient enough in English to keep up with their classmates in subjects across the board, including social studies, science, mathematics and of course reading.

Several parents sued the state of Arizona, claiming that they did not abide by the federal mandate. In 2000, a federal judge ruled in their favor, saying that the state had not hired enough qualified teachers or put into place enough effective programs in order to teach English to the Spanish-speaking students. The state had been spending less than $150 per student to ensure proficiency, found the judge. Some teachers themselves were not proficient in English.

The state has begun to implement changes, including building more schools, increasing the teacher-to-student ratio, and allocating additional funds for the English language programs.

Yet a federal appeals court has ruled that the state’s spending increase and curriculum improvements have not been sufficient. At that point, the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate, both Republicans, hired their own lawyers in order to appeal. In an unexpected move, the Supreme Court then agreed to hear the case.

The state’s superintendent of education, who is also a Republican, agrees with the House and Senate speakers that it should be left up to the taxpayers to determine how much state money should be spent on the English-education initiatives. He’s asking the Supreme Court to rule that the state of Arizona, not the federal government, should have jurisdiction over the matter.

Lawyers for the children said that Arizona had failed to allow the children an equal opportunity to participate and succeed in school, and that this constitutes a failure to comply with federal law.

“What the state needs to do is to is … to ensure that these students have an equal opportunity to participate in the educational system,” said the families’ attorney, Sri Srinivasan.


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