Arizona Votes on Proposition 203 to Decide if Classrooms Should be English Only



David, both Vice President Gore and Governor Bush have devoted unprecedented attention to education this election year. And out West, on the Mexican border, voters will settle a crucial debate on Tuesday, whether their classrooms should be English only. NBC’s Shellee Smith has our story.

SHELLEE SMITH reporting:

In Norma Valencia’s fourth-grade class, a symphony of languages is spoken.
Questions posed in English.

Ms. NORMA VALENCIA: What else do I need here?

SMITH: Answers given in Spanish. This is how 45,000 students like this nine-year-old Eulie Hernandez learn English in Arizona. Critics say it doesn’t work.

Mr. RON UNZ (Supports Proposition 203): The stated goal of bilingual education is to teach English, but it fails to achieve that goal. It’s a well-intentioned program that never worked anywhere in America.

SMITH: California millionaire Ron Unz hopes Arizona voters will ban bilingual ed by voting ‘yes’ on Proposition 203, a ballot initiative that terrifies Eulie Hernandez’s mother.

The proposition asks for our kids to learn English in one year without teachers being able to translate into Spanish. I was in that situation myself, and I can tell you I don’t agree with it.

But if Proposition 203 passes in Arizona, you won’t see any Spanish words on the chalkboard or hear teachers speaking Espanol. Bilingual education, which has been used in this state for 30 years, would be dead. Instead, Hispanic students would learn reading, writing and arithmetic only in English. It’s called English immersion.

Unidentified Woman #1: Give me five. Good job.

SMITH: At this charter school in Tucson, Spanish isn’t allowed. Juan Romero pulled his kids out of bilingual school and placed them here after his 10-year-old son dropped this bombshell.

Mr. JUAN ROMERO (Parent): And I asked him, you know, I said, ‘How come you don’t want to go to school?’ And he said, ‘They look at me,’ and real serious, you know, kind of sad and said, ‘Well, I can’t read. I can’t write.’

Mr. DEMETRIO MORENO (Student): Plan.

SMITH: The Moreno family says bilingual classes left their children confused.

Demetrio, what was math class like?

Mr. MORENO: It was all Spanish.

SMITH: All Spanish? Were you–did you understand?


SMITH: Stories like that are fueling an aggressive campaign to knock out bilingual ed in Arizona. Maria Mendoza hits the streets with flyers every day.

Unidentified Woman #2: It kind of holds them back a little bit.

Ms. MARIA MENDOZA: Bilingual education?

Woman #2: Yeah.

SMITH: What happens here on Election Day could change the face of bilingual education. Nearly every state offers programs, but California abolished it two years ago. Arizona could be next. Massachusetts and New York City are also considering reforms.

Norma Valencia hopes whatever the voters decide next week, whatever language she’s teaching in, her students will be the winners. For TODAY, Shellee Smith, NBC News, Phoenix, Arizona.



DAVID BLOOM, co-host:

Ahead, comparing each candidate’s stand on the issues, what’s important to you and to me and to you, a guide for voters on this Election Day weekend.

APPLEGATE: And later on, new guidelines about head injuries and your kids.
That’s all coming up right after these messages and your local news.

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