Adi?s, bilingual education.

Proposition 203, a highly contentious ballot initiative to dismantle bilingual education in Arizona that will have a national ripple effect, won easily Tuesday as expected.

Supporters of the proposition argued that bilingual education is a failed program that prevents immigrant children from learning English, and therefore limits their chances of success.

But critics decried the proposition as a xenophobic reaction to the exploding Latino population, one that robs parents of educational choice and replaces bilingual programs with one-size-fits-all English immersion.

Arizona is now the second state, behind California, to approve a ballot initiative calling for an end to bilingual education.

The vote likely will add fuel to efforts in other states to either restrict or eliminate bilingual education, with Colorado likely becoming the next battleground, followed possibly by New York.

Organizers of the English for the Children movement celebrated Tuesday at the Airport Marriott Hotel.

“I am very happy that Arizona voters have given us the compassionate vote to help our children be proficient in English so they can pursue their dreams in this country,” said Margaret Garcia-Dugan, Glendale High School’s principal and the co-director of English for the Children.

She and several other supporters held up signs that read “English for the Children” and “Ingles para los Ni?os,” to applause.

But state Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, a Phoenix Democrat who led a campaign against Proposition 203, has promised a court battle but conceded that a legal attempt at derailing the measure completely would probably prove fruitless, as it did in California.

“Besides being bad public policy,” Lopez said recently, “it is a very poorly crafted instrument, so there definitely will be some legal challenge to six or seven different aspects of it.”

Financed by Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, a conservative California Republican who was also on hand Tuesday, the Arizona measure passed by a wide margin.

Under the measure, Arizona teachers will be limited to using primarily English to teach immigrant children.

It directly affects about 45,000 Arizona students currently enrolled in bilingual-education programs, in which a student’s native language, usually Spanish, is used to help him or her learn English. The remaining 90,000 Arizona students classified as English learners already are enrolled in English as a Second Language programs, many of which may already fit the proposition’s definition of “immersion.”

Unclear, however, is what effect, if any, the proposition will have on Native American students in Arizona enrolled in bilingual education programs aimed at helping save tribal languages from extinction.

The Arizona Department of Education now is faced with sorting out whether tribal sovereignty will allow Native tribes to override the proposition,
along with a range of other issues, most notably the law’s start date, which was left unstated by the written proposition.

“We’re going to (move) in a prudent and reasonable manner that is in the best interest of the children enrolled in English acquisition,” Education Department spokeswoman Laura Penny said.

Hector Ayala, a Tucson English teacher and chairman of English for the Children, the group that spearheaded the campaign to pass Proposition 203,
said he assumed school districts would not be required to implement the changes until the fall of 2001, the beginning of the next school year.

Supporters of the similar proposition in California hail English immersion as a success. Standardized test scores released in August indicate that English-only education is working for students in California, where bilingual education was abolished in 1998.

In second grade in California, the average reading test score for a student classified as limited-English rose 9 percentage points over the past two years, to the 28th percentile from the 19th percentile in national rankings,
according to an August story written by the New York Times.
Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8312.

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