Senate passes bill to bolster bilingual education

PHOENIX—The state Senate on Wednesday approved a compromise bill to bolster bilingual education by requiring new state evaluations of districts’ programs and providing new rights to parents.

The bill (SB1001) already is a compromise between supporters of bilingual education and other lawmakers, but the Senate’s 27-0 vote sets the stage for further negotiations with House Republicans who want a time limit on state funding.

Hanging over lawmakers’ heads is the prospect of a possible ballot measure next year to virtually dismantle bilingual education.

Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, the sponsor of the Senate bill, also cites a pending federal lawsuit that alleges current bilingual education programs are inadequate and violate state and federal laws.

“At the end of the session, we have to have a bill,” said Lopez, D-Phoenix.

Lopez’s bill includes requirements that:

– Principals withdraw a child from a bilingual program within five days of a parent’s request and that parents of students newly placed in bilingual programs be given specific information on the program, the students’ status and how the student would leave the program.

– Districts annually assess the academic advances of English-learning students on a school-by-school basis.

– The state Department of Education evaluate the effectiveness of 20 districts’ bilingual programs each year.

The bill also promotes the use of dual-language programs in which English-speaking and English-learning students receive instruction in both English and another language, typically Spanish.

The bill previously provided $ 2.3 million in new funding for teacher training and the state evaluations, but the money and various other provisions was deleted in negotiations leading up to Wednesday’s vote.

Lopez’s bill now goes to the House, which already has passed legislation with similar provisions on parents rights but also a three-year limit on state funding.

Backers of a time limit say many students are languishing in bilingual education classes when they should be put in regular classes as soon as possible.

Lopez said there is no research-based justification for a three-year limit on students’ participation in bilingual education but that he is willing to compromise.

If there is a limit on how long the state will pay for a student’s participation, there should be an override provision allowing a student to stay in bilingual education if he or she cannot pass an English proficiency exam, Lopez said.

Lopez negotiated the Senate compromise with Education Committee Chairman John Huppenthal, a Chandler Republican who has expressed reservations about a time limit, saying it would be difficult to enforce as students move among districts and schools.

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