Supporters: bilingual education initiative headed to ballot

PHOENIX–Supporters of an initiative to restrict bilingual education said they are close to filing enough voter signatures to qualify the measure for Arizona’s November ballot.

The initiative seeks to replace traditional bilingual education programs with one-year English-immersion programs.

Hector Ayala, co-chairman of the so-called English for the Children initiative, said Monday the signatures will be filed in late June.

Supporters need to collect 101,762 valid signatures by July 6. Ayala said supporters hope to collect an extra 35,000 as a cushion for disqualified signatures.

The initiative is modeled after California Proposition 227 approved by that state’s voters in 1998. It required instruction to be overwhelmingly in English though parents and students could obtain waivers allowing them to remain in classes to learn English and other subjects in their native language.

Supporters of the Arizona version on Monday picked up the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.

“These kids are not being given the kind of education they deserve in this country,” said Salmon. “We are failing today and we have got to stop with these excuses.”

A prominent legislative supporter of bilingual education said he will oppose the initiative.

Bilingual education should be strengthened and adequately funded, said Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, D-Phoenix. “Because there is failure, which we admit, doesn’t mean we ought to throw it out. We ought to fix it,” he said.

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