Sufficient valid signatures put proposition to end bilingual ed on ballot

TUCSON, Ariz.—A proposal modeled after a California plan that dismantled the state’s bilingual education program was approved for Arizona’s November ballot after sufficient signatures were validated, the secretary of state’s office said Thursday.

“We’re going to give a future to Hispanic children if voters vote for it,” said Maria Mendoza of Tucson, co-chairman of English for the Children. The group backed the effort to put the measure before voters this fall – officially Proposition 203.

“It’s going to be a different future. They’re going to finally learn to speak English, read English and write English,” Mendoza said.

The ballot proposal would require all public school instruction to be conducted in English, substituting an intensive one-year English immersion program for the years-long bilingual approach that has been used for more than 30 years.

The immersion process is similar to how language was taught in Arizona’s public schools until the 1960s.

But an opponent of the effort, Tucson lawyer and civil rights activist Isabel Garcia, was stunned the proposal made it on the ballot.

“The initiative if it passes would be a travesty for all people of this state. I think people are misinformed and misguided by the proposition.”

Garcia said those who complete a bilingual education program are higher achievers academically and that the proposal would “punish kids who are not able to speak English.”

Supporters of the initiative to dismantle the state’s bilingual education programs turned in nearly 170,000 signatures. State elections director Jessica Funkhouser said 117,702 signatures were found to be valid – 116 percent of the nearly 102,000 needed.

Secretary of State Betsy Bayless likely will officially certify the measure on Friday, she said.

Mendoza said she has been fighting to rid the schools of their required bilingual education program for 35 years, arguing that it has done a disservice to Spanish-speaking children. Mendoza’s organization received about $100,000 from Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, who organized California’s Proposition 227, to help collect signatures.

Most students who study through bilingual education “can’t even take the AIMS test because of lack of English,” Mendoza said. AIMS stands for Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, which measures students’ learning of state curriculum standards.

Hector Ayala, Mendoza’s co-chair and a veteran English teacher at Tucson’s Cholla High School, has said he’s convinced that bilingual education has had little success in educating children. He said test scores have not improved and that over 40 years the achievement discrepancy between Anglos and Hispanics has remained fairly static.

Ayala denied that English for the Children is an English-only movement, seeks to abolish the Spanish culture or language or is an anti-immigrant group.

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