One bilingual education reform bill is dead at the Legislature, and the other should be put out of its misery.

The sponsors of both bills – Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez and Rep. Laura Knaperek – should then build on their collective knowledge of the subject and their rapport with experts on both sides of the bilingual debate to tailor a rational reform for Arizona.

A reform that has broad enough support to derail an ill-conceived initiative effort.

Both of these lawmakers have shown a deep concern about Arizona’s failure to serve students with limited proficiency in English. For two years in a row, reports from the Department of Education reveal that those children score too low on tests.

Those bad scores have been used to pillory bilingual education. But bilingual education is only one of the teaching methods being used with limited English proficiency students. The reports suggest it can be an effective option.

Further complicating matters is the fact that there are many different bilingual programs. Some work better than others. All suffer from a lack of qualified teachers.

Lopez sponsored a bill aimed at identifying the good programs and helping districts implement them. He also wanted to require that bilingual classes be taught by teachers who had received specialized training.

His bill was heavily amended in the Senate Education Committee before evaporating in the House.

The bill sponsored by Knaperek stalled in the Senate, but she plans to use a strike-everything amendment to give it new life in the House Appropriations Committee.

A key feature of her bill is a three-year limit on how long a student can stay in a bilingual program. She calls the limit her “line in the sand.”

Lopez says the limit will result in continued failure because it does nothing to help improve programs or address the teacher shortage. He’s right.

Despite efforts to negotiate a compromise, fundamental philosophical differences prevented the two lawmakers from coming together on a single plan.

But such a plan – and the bipartisan buy-in it would represent – is key to defeating an initiative drive shaped in the image of California’s bilingual education ban.

Bilingual education should be reformed through the careful efforts of lawmakers and knowledgeable citizens, not through an initiative powered more by rhetoric than reason.

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