Court strikes part of description of bilingual education measure

PHOENIX—The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Friday that part of the state’s publicity-pamphlet description of Proposition 203 on bilingual education is wrong and must either be rewritten or deleted.

However, the Supreme Court also rejected bilingual education supporters’ objections to other parts of the description.

While the one provision is easy to fix, the others would be too time-consuming, a three-justice panel said. The pamphlet, copies of which are mailed to all voters’ households, is scheduled to go to the printer next week.

The court agreed with opponents of Proposition 203 that the description misstated how many children now are entitled to bilingual education.

That portion said existing laws “require that public schools provide bilingual education instruction to every pupil who is not fluent in English, without a specific time period on services.”

The proposition’s opponents said that was inaccurate because state law allows alternatives to traditional bilingual education and quoted a state report that said 73.7 percent of English-learning students were in those alternatives.

Proposition 203 would require all public school instruction to be conducted in English, substituting an intensive one-year English immersion program for the years-long bilingual approach that has been used for decades.

Other objections by opponents included that the description overstated what rights parents would have under Proposition 203 to keep their kids in traditional bilingual education.

The Supreme Court said the other objections “are overruled given the lateness of the special action petition, the absence of adequate explanation for its late filing and the more comprehensive rewriting that would be required to meet those objections at this late date.”

The description was written by the Legislative Council’s staff and approved by the council, a committee of legislators.

Council Executive Director Michael Braun said he was surprised and disappointed by the ruling. It will be difficult to arrange a meeting of the council on short notice to rewrite the stricken paragraph so it may have to be deleted, he said.

“Hopefully the voters will still be able to understand the substance of the proposition,” he said.

The ruling is the third this summer in which the Supreme Court ordered changes in ballot measures’ descriptions prepared either by the Legislative Council or the staff of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

The court on Aug. 7 rejected portions of the descriptions for Proposition 202 on growth management and Proposition 204 on health-care spending, saying they were not impartial.

The case is Sotomayor vs. Burns, CV-00-0305-SA.

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