Friday, July 19, 2024

Supreme Court Rules In Favor of English Learners

Seventeen years after the case was initially filed, the US Supreme Court, just prior to recessing, ruled in favor of students who are English Language Learners (ELL) by affirming a state’s obligations to provide services to these students.

The Mexican America Legal Defense Education Fund (MALDEF) and other national civil rights groups submitted an Amicus Brief in support of the plaintiffs in this case, Horne v. Flores, arguing that Congress never intended to remove a state’s responsibility under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act EEOA. The Court agreed.

In this case, ELL students and their parents from Nogales, Arizona claimed that the state, by under-funding language programs, had failed to aid these students in overcoming their language barriers as required in the EEOA. The plaintiffs succeeded at the trial level in 2000 by proving that the State of Arizona had violated their rights by failing to take “appropriate action.”

The district court then ordered the state to provide adequate funding; the state never complied. After a number of court orders attempting to enforce the funding order, the state finally filed a motion seeking dismissal of the case citing a series of “significant programmatic improvements.” The motion was denied by the lower courts. Arizona then took the case to the Supreme Court.
The Court rejected Arizona school officials’ claim that mere compliance with the No Child Left Behind constitutes compliance with the EEOA.  Rather, states have continuing obligations under the EEOA to develop effective programs that will allow ELL children to become proficient in English.

According to MALDEF, the significance of providing equal educational opportunities to ELL children cannot be understated. The Court said: “There is no question that the goal of the EEOA -overcoming language barriers- is a vitally important one, and our decision will not in any way undermine efforts to achieve that goal.”

The majority opinion of the court seemingly endorsed structured English immersion programs over bilingual education programs.  It also indicated that putting more money into education does not matter. The dissenting opinion, however, does note that there is substantial research proving that bilingual education is far more successful than structured immersion programs in helping students learn English and that providing sufficient funding for quality educational programs will make a difference.

According to a press release from MALDEF, “Clearly, the debate is not over.”