Sponsor of bilingual education bill says he could swallow time limit

PHOENIX – A senator says he still opposes a three-year limit on students’ participation in bilingual education but would go along with the limit to rescue his own bill to bolster the programs.

The Senate Education Committee gutted Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez’s bill (SB1001) on Thursday, deleting requirements for special training and certification for teachers and new state inspections of schools’ programs.

The committee also removed most of the rest of the bill, including extra pay for bilingual education teachers, but left intact parts giving new rights to parents regarding removal of their children from programs or placement in them.

Lopez, D-Phoenix, said later he planned to meet with Republicans to negotiate a compromise. He said he would accept the limit sought by Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, if necessary.

“There is no scientific data to support a three-year limit but clearly if that is the wish of the Legislature, that part could be a lot easier to accept if they would put those other elements into it,” Lopez said. “If they put the rest of those things in there, we’re going to have to look seriously at the time limit even though we may not like it.”

The three-year limit is the cornerstone of Knaperek’s bill, which also includes new rights for parents and additional responsibilities for schools.

Opposed by bilingual education supporters, Knaperek’s awaits a vote by the full House.

Several bilingual education supporters said they don’t want any part of a three-year limit.

“It forces us to dismantle our most successful programs which last longer than three years,” said John Petrovic, an Arizona State University researcher. “We need to fight to get the bill passed as it was originally written.”

Regarding possible negotiations with Lopez and others, Knaperek told fellow House Republicans on Thursday that she would hold out for a limit of three years or less.

Knaperek promotes her bill as a middle-ground alternative to a proposed citizens’ initiative to virtually ban bilingual education outright.

Lopez, on the other hand, said his bill would resolve a pending lawsuit that alleges Arizona’s bilingual education programs do not comply with federal and state statutes.

The Education Committee erased most of Lopez’s bill but accepted two changes which he proposed, including one to bar the state Board of Education from requiring that high school students pass the AIMS test before graduating.

The other Lopez amendment would require the state to establish new standards for teachers who teach “English language learners” and criteria to determine when students are eligible to enter and leave the programs.

Committee Chairman John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, said he’s willing to negotiate further but will insist on new reporting requirements that bilingual education supporters contend would burden their already underfunded programs.

“We need that data and we need it very accurately so we can discover who’s doing a good job and who’s not doing a good job so the parents know that,” Huppenthal said.

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