Bilingual-ed foe assails Keegan

'She's confused,' Calif. backer of Prop. 203 says

The California millionaire behind Arizona’s anti- bilingual education campaign blasted state schools chief Lisa Graham Keegan on Wednesday for saying she would not crack down on successful bilingual programs.

Proposition 203, passed overwhelmingly by voters in November, aims to push kids out of bilingual classes and into intensive, English-only programs. But Tuesday, Keegan said she would allow bilingual education to continue as long as schools could prove children were learning English and making academic progress.

But there is no provision in Proposition 203 that allows bilingual programs to continue under those conditions. The only students allowed to stay in bilingual programs are those who get waivers from school officials.

“I think she’s severely confused,” Proposition 203 financier Ron Unz said. “It really sounds like Lisa Graham Keegan is saying she will decide whether to enforce the law. I don’t think that’s a proper role for an elected official.”

Keegan said she is not flouting the law.

“I am not confused,” she said. “I am from Arizona. I was raised here. I think I understand our system. That is an advantage Mr. Unz does not have.”

Supporters of the proposition accuse Keegan of selective enforcement of the law.

“The message it sent to people is school districts can do whatever they want,” said Margaret Garcia- Dugan, Glendale High School principal and Proposition 203 advocate.

But Education Department spokeswoman Laura Penny said Keegan isn’t selectively enforcing the law because she has the same standards for all schools. She expects schools to follow the new law, but said the state doesn’t have the resources to go into every classroom and monitor instruction. The only way schools will get the department’s attention is if they are failing.

Keegan sent an e-mail to all Arizona public schools Wednesday, saying the state Department of Education intends to implement the new law “consistent with the interpretation of the state Attorney General’s Office.” Keegan said the amount of time that can be spent in other language instruction and penalties for not complying are still being worked out.

And that’s where some of the confusion comes from. The Attorney General’s Office hasn’t worked through all the details of the new law. Spokeswoman Pati Urias said the office is quickly examining Proposition 203. “(Keegan) has asked for guidance, and we’ll provide it,” Urias said. “We’re confident she’ll do her best in the meantime.”

Keegan’s e-mail went on to say the most important issue is closing the achievement gap: “At the end of the day, student progress in becoming English proficient and meeting the academic standards as measured by annual assessments will tell us whether Proposition 203 is being followed.”

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or (602) 444-6881.

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