Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I hate guys like this

Public-interest attorney Tim Hogan is trying to force the hand of the Republican legislature in it's ongoing battle with Governor Napolitano over funding for an English-learner school program. This has been detailed in numerous posts here, with this being the most recent. Follow the links to read my opinion on the matter, including commentary on the involvement of Mr. Hogan's Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest.

Mr. Hogan is unapologetic about his intent:

Hogan said his tactic is designed to force the Legislature's hand. An olive branch would give lawmakers an additional 30 days to pass legislation if a judge were to impose such a sanction.

"The state's unlawful disregard for these students has resulted in more than 80 percent of (these students) in high school failing the AIMS graduation test. The system that's been in place during that period of time is one of state-sanctioned failure and must end now before any more students are lost to the state's indifference."

His weapon of choice would be the state's access to Federal highway funds: "The federal highway funding is a pretty clean way to get at this problem," said Hogan, who has forced the state to change key policies ranging from school-construction financing to environmental cleanups. "The point here is to get the Legislature to do something. We're not interested in stopping education funds, which would hurt kids even more."

Hogan's motion mentions an Arizona Department of Transportation report that said the state received $535.9 million in federal transportation funding in 2004. The motion, though, doesn't recommend a specific dollar figure that should be withheld.

Meanwhile, Republican legislators seem sure that funds won't be witheld: Republicans are skeptical that a judge would actually withhold federal highway dollars from the state. "I would think it would be counterproductive for the courts to proceed in this fashion," said House Majority Leader Steve Tully, R-Phoenix, an attorney.

Which brings us to the person of Mr. Hogan. I have no problem with advocacy; I begrudge no-one the right to advocate a position or a course of action in discussions of public policy.

In the case of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, however, what I see is not advocacy but intrusion. Mr. Hogan seeks, as a bystander, to influence the decision-making process of the State via the courts. To me, this is beyond counter-productive.

Despite the contentious nature of the school-funding issue, both the Governor and the legislature have agreed that the issue must- and will be dealt with as mandated by the State Supreme Court:

Republican House and Senate leaders plan to meet with Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano on Aug. 10 to talk about English-learner funding, the first meeting of the leaders since Napolitano vetoed a GOP-crafted bill in late May. Napolitano and Hogan thought that plan, which required school districts to apply for grants, was inadequate.

Napolitano has since developed a funding plan of her own that would increase spending for English learners by $185 million a year, but legislators have refused to discuss it until Napolitano pledges to reverse a veto of an unrelated measure to create a corporate tuition tax credit for private schools. Republicans point out that lawmakers have increased per-student spending for English learners to more than $350 a year from $150, so there's no evidence of ignoring the court order.

Mr. Hogan is free, like the rest of us, to advocate the Governor's plan or even one of his own that meets a standard he is comfortable with for school funding levels. However, trying to force his position on the State via the court does more to muddy the already-troubled waters here than it does to help. There is animus enough between the legislature and Governor's office over this, the last thing I'd like to see is an outside third-party standing on the sidelines throwing gasoline on the fire.

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