Collins should be judged like legislator

Posted on June 21, 2007 | Type: In the News
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Normally the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers comments on the policy positions of Arizona legislators, not federal judges.

But through his judicial decisions in recent years, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins has effectively appointed himself to the Arizona Legislature.

Indeed, Judge Collins has become a very powerful legislator, able to single-handedly mandate an appropriation of $150 million - more than 1 percent of the state's General Fund budget - in additional spending on English-language learner (ELL) programs.

When he doesn't get his way, he can threaten the Legislature with sanctions, as he did last year when he attempted to impose fines of $21 million on the state.

Collins is such a powerful legislator, it is our duty to alert the public when we believe he is wrong about policy.

Judge Collins has erred in his diagnosis of the problems facing Arizona's ELL programs. He apparently believes they do not perform well because funding is "insufficient" and "arbitrary."

However, as the Goldwater Institute has documented, Arizona public schools spend more than $8,000 per child (including ELL students) per year. (Now that he is a legislator, we would advise Collins to get on the Goldwater mailing list.)

The fact that many private Arizona schools spend $5,000 per child to achieve better results (even with ELL students) suggests public schools in Arizona may receive too much funding, not too little.

As the Arizona Tax Research Association noted, using statistics from the National Education Association, Arizona ranks 11th in the nation for average instructional pay (including in ELL) and first for average instructional pay as a percent of per-capita state income. (As a legislator, Collins will find ATRA to be a great resource.)

Further, students in Arizona ELL programs already receive at least $383 more than the average Arizona student, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (another great resource for legislators).

Collins would no doubt cite the 2004 study by the National Conference of State Legislatures. But that study began with the premise that spending is inadequate and never bothered to question it.

Given how much money is spent on public schools in Arizona, we find that the problems with the system (including in ELL) are not because of a lack of funds, but rather to the systemic mismanagement that results from a lack of market incentives.

Collins believes more money will improve the performance of ELL students. But a quick look at the big picture casts serious doubts on that belief.

Between 1960 and 2000, America's public schools system increased per-pupil funding by more than 400 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Sadly, we have nothing to show for that. During that period, student performance has remained flat, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress .

The long-proven failure of increased funding to improve educational performance has driven much interest in school choice programs, which use market incentives to improve school management.

If Collins wants to learn more about school choice (as a legislator, he should), we suggest he pick up Manhattan Institute scholar Jay P. Greene's book "Education Myths."

Of course, the real root of Arizona's ELL controversy is not policy but jurisprudence.

The 10th and 14th Amendments have conflicting language, and federal judges have used the 14th - combined with vague federal statutes - to exercise dictatorial control over state and local policy matters.

With so much interpretive and policymaking power at Collins' disposal, we understand it would be difficult to resist the temptation to toss federalism to the wind and override the (often questionable) collective wisdom of the Arizona Legislature.

While we earnestly hope some higher court will overrule his ELL decisions, we will offer to Judge Collins the same policy support we offer to all other Arizona legislators.

Welcome to the Legislature, Judge Collins!

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