PHOENIX—Supporters of a ballot initiative to end bilingual education in Arizona proposed additional legislation Thursday that would establish a system of adult English literacy programs.
On Nov. 7, voters will decide on Proposition 203, which is modeled after California’s 1998 initiative to dismantle bilingual education. It would place students not fluent in English in an intensive one-year immersion program and would require all public school instruction to be in English.
Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, who had adamantly opposed Prop 203 in favor of bilingual education reform, changed directions and announced her support Thursday of the initiative, citing results showing California students having success with English immersion. She also proposed the “English for Families Act.”
“Parents want to learn English too,” Knaperek said. “To me, it should be a team thing. English is for families.”
She said the money saved from cutting bilingual education would pay for the free program to teach English to parents and other adults, which she says would subsequently help the state’s children to become fluent. A legislative committee has estimated cutting bilingual education would save up to $20 million.
Opponents of Prop 203 say the California test scores were not reported in context and that academic research shows that bilingual education works.
“This is an absolutely unnecessary measure. They’re appealing to the folks who worry about the presence of Spanish in the state,” said Josue Gonzalez, director of the Center for Bilingual Education and Research at Arizona State University.
Not so, Knaperek argued.
“I don’t have a problem with anyone speaking two languages… This just ensures (students) are proficient in English so they can be successful in school. This isn’t about stopping Spanish,” she said.
Parents would be able to request a waiver if they disagree with having their child in an English immersion program, Knaperek said.
Prop 203 proponents argue that despite spending years in bilingual education classes, non-English speaking students in Arizona don’t learn English and have a higher dropout rate.
But opponents say the decision to dismantle bilingual education is not one that should be made by the state.
“It’s a terrible way to make education policy. This is the kind of the decision that school boards should be making,” Gonzalez said.
A poll released this week indicates that Prop 203 is gaining ground among Arizona voters.
The poll found 71 percent support the initiative, 20 percent oppose it and 9 percent are undecided. The telephone poll of 400 registered voters was conducted Sept. 14-17 by KAET-TV and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunications at Arizona State University. The poll has a 4.9 percent margin of error.
A poll by The Arizona Republic found 74 percent in favor of the initiative. The Republic also said approval rose to 82 percent among Republicans and 79 percent in Maricopa County, in contrast to 63 percent among Democrats and 59 percent in Pima County. The Sept. 14-18 poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.