Republican congressional candidate Jeff Flake on Wednesday endorsed a state ballot measure that would require public school instruction to be in English.

In backing Prop. 203, which would do away with most bilingual programs for non-native speakers, Flake stirred little disagreement among the four other GOP opponents in the District 1 primary race to be decided Tuesday.

The unopposed Democrat is against the proposition.

Union official David Mendoza said it would be “dangerous” for the state’s Hispanics and other non-native speakers.

Libertarian Jon Burroughs, also running unopposed, said schools should be privatized and vouchers issued to provide more choices for parents.

Voters will decide the initiative measure in the Nov. 7 general election.

“Bilingual education has benefited more bureaucrats than kids,” Flake said in a speech outside the Phoenix Advantage Charter School, the largest charter school in the state. “The federal government has no business mandating this boondoggle down our schools’ throats.”

Flake said evidence shows that structured English immersion, as used with nearly 400 of the 1,100 students at the charter school, works best. If elected, he will work to eliminate federal mandates that force the state to accept bilingual education, he said.

Polled afterward, candidates Sal DiCiccio, Tom Liddy, Susan Bitter Smith and Bert Tollefson agreed that English should be the language of instruction.

DiCiccio, son of Italian immigrant parents, said he didn’t speak English until he entered first grade.

“I’m a product of English immersion,” he said.

Liddy said experience as a student in Indonesia convinces him of the value of language immersion.

He denounced federal controls over education, and said that ultimately, “the decision on how best to teach children English should be up to the parents.”

Bitter Smith noted that Prop. 203 allows some flexibility and parental controls.

Tollefson said, “All young people ought to be trained to assimilate into English-(speaking) culture.”

Mendoza, however, said the measure “tries to fit every person into one program.”

“If they’re all put into a one-year immersion program, we’re going to lose a lot of kids,” he said.

The federal government should help provide proper funding for bilingual programs, then “leave it to the school districts to handle it,” Mendoza said.

Congressional District 1 takes in central Phoenix, Ahwatukee, southern Scottsdale and most of the east Valley.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or (602) 444-4816.

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