Compromise on bilingual education focuses on parents' rights, study

PHOENIX—Gone from proposals for revamping bilingual education are a 3-year limit on state funding for students’ participation in bilingual programs and new state monitoring of school districts’ compliance with federal and state laws.

Instead, a compromise negotiated Tuesday by sponsors of rivals measures would give new rights to parents and have lawmakers study the issue further in anticipation of more action next year.

The revised version of the bill (HB2387) used for the compromise now awaits Senate and House votes.

“It gives us an opportunity to address the issue in a comprehensive manner,
and that’s what I want to do,” said Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, a Phoenix Democrat who sponsored one of the proposals partly absorbed into the compromise.

However, a leader of a Tucson-based group promoting an anti-bilingual education ballot measure for next year dismissed the compromise as a
“worthless piece of legislation.”

“We’re going to continue with (the initiative) whether this bill passes or not,” said Maria Mendoza, co-chair of English for the Children of Arizona.
“We’re not paying attention to politicians any more. They don’t have the guts to come out and say bilingual education programs don’t work.”

The proposed initiative, modeled after one approved by California voters last year, would virtually dismantle bilingual education in Arizona.

Although Lopez said he didn’t think the initiative will pass, the other bill’s sponsor has voiced concern about the initiative and said it is important that lawmakers give the public an alternative.

“We did get something,” said Rep. Laura Knaperek, citing the parental rights provisions that were in both bills from the start. “It’s always been the most importance piece.”

Knaperek, R-Tempe, and Lopez negotiated for an hour early Tuesday during a recess in a conference committee meeting on her bill. The last-minute negotiations were to work to iron out differences between versions of Knaperek’s bill passed by each chamber. The Senate version contained elements of Lopez’s bill (SB1001), which died in the House.

The parental rights provisions include stating that students’ participation in bilingual education and in English as a second language programs is voluntary and requires parental notification.

Within 30 days of a student being enrolled in one of the programs, a school would have to provide the parents of a student with scores denoting the student’s English proficiency, a pamphlet describing the school’s programs and notice of the district’s recommendation for placement in a program.

Also, the school would have to disclose whether the instructor has special training in bilingual education and tell the parents how a student may be removed from the assigned program. A principal would have to remove a student from a program within five days after receiving a parent’s written request for withdrawal.

The compromise bill includes Lopez’s proposal for a legislative study committee to conduct hearings and otherwise study academic research on types and lengths of programs to achieve English proficiency, whether districts’
existing programs comply with federal and state laws and availability of teachers with bilingual education certification and funding issues,
including how much the programs cost and how much money is provided by the state and federal governments.

Knaperek and Lopez had locked horns at the beginning of the conference committee meeting, each criticizing the other’s bill as inadequate.

Senate Education Chairman John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, then engaged in a form of shuttle diplomacy in an apparently successful effort to identify common ground between the two lawmakers.

That led to line-by-line negotiations between Knaperek and Lopez, who were aided by legislative staffers and Jaime Molera, Gov. Jane Hull’s education adviser.



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