PHOENIX – The death yesterday of one of two bilingual education
bills in the Legislature likely will result in the other dying,
leaving lawmakers with no bill to offset a ballot initiative that
would end bilingual programs in the state’s public schools.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, D-Phoenix, died in the
House Education Committee on a 6-5 vote.

Lopez’s bill, which would have required state evaluation of school
districts’ bilingual programs and given parents more say in their
child’s bilingual education, had cleared the Senate 27-3.

Now the only bilingual bill left is one sponsored by Rep. Laura
Knaperek , R-Tempe. That bill will soon be headed for consideration
by the full Senate.

The primary difference between the bills involved limits on state
funding for a child’s bilingual education. Lopez wanted no limits on
how many years a child can be enrolled in bilingual programs.
Knaperek wants a three-year limit.

Lawmakers hope to pass a bilingual reform bill to counter an
initiative proposed for the 2000 ballot. The initiative is similar
to one California voters approved last year that gutted the state’s
bilingual programs.

Lopez says he now will work to kill Knaperek’s bill.

“I had hoped we would come out of this session with a bill that
would serve the needs of all children,” Lopez said. “Clearly, with a
three-year time limit, without any appropriations with which to meet
even the provisions of Knaperek’s bill, that is not possible in my
eyes, and in the eyes of most experts that deal with language
acquisition programs.

“So I will suggest to my colleagues, when it gets to the floor,
that they vote against it, and we will go another year with what we
have in place.”

Knaperek helped to kill Lopez’s bill in the House committee after
Lopez requested that she not amend his bill. Knaperek said she had
an amendment prepared that would help Lopez’s bill get through the
committee.

Rep. Dan Schottel, R-Tucson, chairman of the Education Committee,
cast the deciding vote to kill the bill.

Lopez said he will work next year to convince House members that a
realistic bilingual education bill should be passed. He said he
believed that the testimony of bilingual professionals was trumped in
the House committee by anecdotal evidence.

With Lopez’s bill getting overwhelming support in the Senate,
Knaperek acknowledged that senators “are on a completely different
page” than House members.

“That’s unfortunate because I’m looking for a three-year limit and
not to increase the same program that has been unsuccessful for 30
years,” Knaperek said. “True reform is my bill. A little bit of
reform and then increasing the same culture and the same situation is
what the Lopez bill stands for.”

Knaperek predicted the anti-bilingual initiative will succeed if
her bill is killed.

“My bill would have diverted the initiative, and that was what I
was trying to do on top of making programs more successful for kids,”
she said.

The initiative, filed by Tucson-based English for the Children, is
identical to California’s Proposition 227, which took effect last
fall.

The initiative would require that children who don’t speak English
take a one-year English immersion class and then move into mainstream
classes.

The Tucson group filed the initiative in January. Members must
collect 115,000 signatures of registered voters over the next 16
months to get the initiative on the 2000 ballot.

Lopez said he is looking forward to the debate on the initiative.
A recent poll conducted by Arizona State University showed a 50-50
split on the initiative question, he said.

“Arizona is not California,” Lopez said. “We have a history of
working with our neighbor to the south in Mexico.”



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