English-only effort gains in Arizona

Backers get signatures for referendum

Supporters of English-only education in Arizona say they have collected more than enough signatures to get a referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot that would ask voters to end bilingual education in the state.

Maria Mendoza, a Tucson grandmother and former teacher’s aide who has led a grass-roots campaign to organize voters against the state’s failing bilingual programs, said she has no doubts the initiative will pass.

“The vine is ripe, and this will happen,” she said. “There’s no way we can give these people another 30 years to damage these children.”

About 100,000 limited-English-proficiency students in Arizona are enrolled in bilingual classes, which cost the state $70 million. Of those children, close to 95 percent have failed to become fluent in English, according to a state report.

Even the state’s superintendent of public instruction, Lisa Graham Keegan, has called the system “a mess.”

“We are losing a lot of children, and the parents are upset because they don’t have any empowerment to change the education system,” said Mrs. Mendoza, 63. “It’s very hard for legislators to do anything about this and we had to take matters into our own hands.”

More than 101,700 signatures are required to put the measure before voters this fall.

“We have more than that,” said Mrs. Mendoza, who co-founded English for the Children of Arizona two years ago with Hector Ayala, a high school teacher.

The group’s initiative, which is modeled on California’s Proposition 227, calls for bilingual education students to be enrolled in mainstream English classes. Students who are not fluent would be placed in one-year English-immersion courses, where they would receive intensive instruction.

Bipartisan support for their plan is growing around the state, polls have shown. Among the few outspoken opponents are bilingual researchers, who cite studies they say show that Hispanic children do better in bilingual programs than in English-immersion programs.

Children in English-immersion programs tend to fall behind academically and not close the gap in academic achievement between themselves and

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