Monday, January 30, 2006

There Are No Private Schools for Almost All ELL Kids in Arizona. But That Doesn't Matter to the GOP Legislature.

My rushing-out-the-door-to-a-meeting headline suggestion this week was "Flailing Flores, or Karl Rove as Napolitano's Campaign Manager," but the editor went with something simpler and less obscure, but blander. He also deleted my closing paragraph. I suppose it's OK to delete such cracks if those guys stop with the holier-than-thou crap, but somehow I doubt that will happen. The also took out in the 7th graf the last two clauses ("so in Napolitano's case, the accusation has the additional benefit of being true.") Lack to space to fit in all the anti-Bush and pro-Napolitano stuff in the Tribune, but do anti-Napolitano and pro-Bush items face similar space limitations? It's conspiracy theory time, people. I've revised the column to include the deleted material. You can see the Tribune version, at least for 12 more days.

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 29, 2006

Here’s part of a speech state Democratic Party chair Harry Mitchell could give on the Legislature’s failure to deal competently and adequately with the state’s need to educate non-English-speaking students. The key passages go something like this:

“We face an absolute legal duty and a deadline, and we need a chief executive and a legislature who understand the nature of that duty and the gravity of the moment Arizona finds itself in.

“Governor Napolitano and the Democratic Party do. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Republicans.

“Democrats have a 21st century worldview on education, and many Republicans have a pre-2000 worldview. That doesn’t make them unpatriotic, not at all. But it does make them wrong -- deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong.”

Does that sound a bit harsh? Maybe it sounded better in Karl Rove’s speech to the Republican National Committee (I’ve reversed the party labels around and swapped education for security). But that’s the formula for November here.

First, note that many Republicans don’t understand education -- thereby encouraging some Republicans to explain that they aren’t like those other Republicans. Then use those “rising above partisanship” Republicans to beat the others like a drum.

Second, remember how the legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security worked. Just as Bush accused Democrats of putting national security behind their support for union protections for DHS employees, Napolitano can accuse Republicans of putting education behind funneling tax money to their private schools and other pet causes. Of course, the GOP legislature is making it easy, because nobody with any understanding of the problems of educating non-English speakers can see how the GOP plan does anything to help, so in Napolitano’s case, the accusation has the additional benefit of being true.

The DHS model has another cue for Napolitano. Watch her handling the immigration issue just as Bush suddenly pivoted on the DHS bill, which he opposed and opposed until one day, he supported it and jumped to the front of the parade, pretending that was where he had been all along, and all the media played along. It worked for Bush, so just watch it work for Napolitano, too.

Third, the Flores order won’t go away until the Legislature gets serious about a solution, and the case has all of the elements that will keep it on the front page for as long as the GOP legislative leadership wants to dodge the issue. Republicans prefer talking about tax cuts or changing laws to benefit their key supporters, but none of that can compete for attention with a federal judge fining the state $500,000 a day. That’s one way to deal with the budget surplus, I guess. It’s not one I would have chosen, but then I’m not a GOP legislator.

The root cause is that most if not all Republican incumbents don’t know any of the 150,000 students who need help because those kids don’t speak enough English to learn adequately. Those Republicans also assume, probably correctly, that none of those kids’ parents vote in the GOP primaries that determine the incumbents’ political fates. And when it comes to doing the right and legal thing versus keeping their own incumbent selves safely in office, guess what wins?

GOP unwillingness to deal with the court order and the state’s need to educate a good slice of its future workforce properly probably plays well in those legislative district primary elections, but it looks awful among the statewide electorate. The flimsiness of the legislative responses so far also fits a pre-existing storyline, that Republicans just don’t care about public schools and educating all kids, which makes GOP efforts to explain their positions (to the extent they have any explanation) an uphill climb.

You might think that’s unfair, but hey, given the national situation, what’s a little state-level political unfairness? And given the recent involvements with the criminal justice system of GOP House Speaker Jim Weiers and Senate President Ken Bennett, who are happy to claim leadership on so-called "family values" issues, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving group.

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