Supporters of bilingual education are gearing up to fight a Nov. 7 ballot initiative that asks voters to abolish bilingual education in Arizona.

At a rally scheduled for 3 p.m. today at the state Capitol, supporters of bilingual education plan to criticize the group behind the anti-bilingual-education initiative and call into question the 165,000 signatures submitted last week by English for the Children, the group that wants Arizona voters to scrap bilingual education.

“This initiative was bought and paid for by an out-of-state millionaire and is in no way a grass-roots volunteer effort,” said Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, D-Phoenix, a bilingual-education supporter. “We want to make sure the petition-signers knew that before they signed.”

Lopez was referring to Ron Unz, a multimillionaire from California who is helping finance the initiative in Arizona. He was instrumental in dismantling bilingual education in his home state two years ago.

Unz has contributed $100,000 to the English for the Children campaign in Arizona. Last week, the group submitted petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office asking Arizona voters to abolish bilingual education and replace it with a mandatory one-year English-immersion program that requires immigrant students to speak and write only in English.

The initiative already is dividing the Hispanic community.

Proponents, including many Hispanics, say the state’s 30-year-old system is a sham that inhibits immigrant children from learning English and places them on the road to educational and economic failure.

Last week, the group announced it had collected more than 165,000 signatures in support of the initiative, far more than the 101,000 valid signatures necessary to place it on the ballot.

“We have the signatures. We have the votes. We know we are going to win,” said Hector Ayala, a Tucson English teacher who is co-chairman of the English for the Children group.

Supporters of bilingual education, however, say it works better than English immersion in teaching immigrants. Scrapping bilingual education would especially hurt Hispanic and Native American children with limited English proficiency and deny parents the right to choose bilingual education for their children, they say. It also would segregate students from their peers, they say.

“It really is a travesty when you look at what is going to happen in terms of choice,” Alejandra Sotomayor said. Sotomayor, a curriculum specialist for the Tucson Unified School District, is a board member of English Plus More, a political action group formed to fight the initiative.

At least 13 organizations in Arizona have passed resolutions opposing the anti-bilingual-education initiative, she said. Those organizations include the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, the Arizona English Teachers Association, the Arizona Education Association, Hispanic Forum, Arizona Hispanic School Administrators Association, Dine Language Teachers Association and the Arizona Association for Bilingual Education, she said. Reach the reporter at [email protected] or call (602) 444-8312.

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