Arizona attorneys have urged a federal appeals court to resolve the debate over funding for some 160,000 children struggling to learn English in the state.

Lawyers representing Arizona legislators and state schools chief Tom Horne asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Tuesday to uphold a law passed this year but rejected three months ago by federal Judge Raner Collins in Tucson.

It would increase funding for English-learners from $358 per pupil to $432 per pupil.

Arizona attorneys also asked the court to overturn Collins' order fining the state $21 million for missing a deadline to come up with a plan to help the English-learner students.

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In late April, Collins rejected the Legislature's plan to improve instruction for students struggling to learn English, saying it did not include enough new money and would have violated federal law.

Collins' ruling drew a defiant response from Republican legislative leaders, who decided to head to the federal appeals court, which is expected to rule within a few months.

Tim Hogan, who represents the parents who filed a lawsuit against the state 14 years ago, said students who struggle to learn English are still woefully underfunded.

"All along, this has always been about inadequate funding, and they still have not figured out how much it costs to educate these kids," Hogan said. "Resources bring opportunities. It's about kids having opportunities. Some will take advantage, and some will not."

Horne said the state has undergone a significant "change in circumstances" since a federal judge in 2000 ruled Arizona funded English-learners in an "arbitrary and capricious way."

Horne wants the appeals court panel to quash the $21 million in fines and overturn Collins' ban on the state requiring English-learners to pass the AIMS test to graduate.

Tim Nelson, the legal counsel for Gov. Janet Napolitano, attended Tuesday's one-hour hearing and said he hopes a decision comes quickly "because these children need a resolution to this."

However, others think the case is headed to a higher court.

"The Supreme Court is going to have the last word on this," said Barrett Marson, a top aide to House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix. "This is an issue of nationwide importance."