Letters to Government Officials

Prop 203 Ballot Language Is Very Misleading
by Dr. Chris Boosalis, California State University, Stanislaus
Sept 23, 2000
 

Dear Honorable Secretary Bayless:

I understand that you will convene a special session on the subject of the initiatives before Arizona
voters this year. I applaud this decision. Proposition 203 needs careful review, because I do not believe
that the language that will appear on the ballot adequately represents what passage of this initiative
will mean in actual practice. I would like to make three, brief points to illustrate this. Before doing
so, here is the text that I understand will appear on the ballot:

"A "yes" vote shall have the effect of requiring all public school instruction to be conducted in English,
rather than in bilingual programs, requiring an intensive one-year English immersion program to teach
English as quickly as possible while teaching academic subjects, unless parents request a waiver for children who know English, are 10 years or older or have special needs, and permitting enforcement lawsuits by parents and guardians."

While the language sounds as if a 'yes' vote will mount an intensive effort to educate language-minority
children, the actual effect will be to destroy choice for one group of parents (those in favor of bilingual
education) and force them to accept English-immersion instruction as their only option. Let me explain.

First, Proposition 203 suggests that all language-minority children are presently in bilingual education programs. The fact is that only thirty percent of Arizona's language-minority children are in them; the remaining seventy percent are in ESL or English-only classrooms right now. If there is a real problem of children not learning English quickly enough, it certainly cannot be blamed on the paltry number of students in bilingual education. Instead, it appears that there are other, more complicated problems at work here. Furthermore, I would argue that it is English immersion that is failing children, not bilingual education.

Second, Proposition 203 makes it appear as if all children who are in bilingual education programs are
failing to learn English and are are failing to transition out. This is absolutely false. Tucson Unified School District used English immersion programs as its model for over fifty years. The drop out rate for Hispanic children remained a rock-solid sixty percent. However, with bilingual education programs available to parents who want them, the drop out rates for Hispanic children are at *seven percent*. This is nothing short of miraculous. The fact is that language-minority children who participate in bilingual education programs are more likely to finish their studies and go on to college. English-immersion can *never* claim such success, and Proposition 203 misrepresents the facts.

The fact that English-immersion programs have dismal transition rates is true wherever similar Proposition 203-style measures have passed. The Oceanside Unified School District in California, the poster-district of English-only success, reported a mere *4.1* transition rate for language-minority children, meaning that *96 percent* of the district's children failed to move into the mainstream. Like Proposition 203, language-minority children are supposed to move from 'sheltered English' programs to 'regular' classrooms in one year. This is simply impossible. As the Oceanside case demonstrates, even under the strictest circumstances, one year of language instruction is clearly insufficient for language-minority children. On this basis alone, Proposition 203 should be tabled pending further investigation.

Finally, Proposition 203 is really about eliminating choice for parents who want bilingual education for
their children and nothing else. It has very little to do with teaching children English. As I write to you,
Arizona law already requires that all parents be given a choice regarding the kind of language program that they want for their children, be it English-immersion, dual language, or bilingual. Proposition 203 removes bilingual education as an option for parents whose children are under ten years of age. But it also removes the possibility of dual language instruction, where language-minority and monolingual English speakers study together and emerge with a true bilingual education.

Dual-language instruction is an important consideration here, because it is important to both parents of language-minority and mainstream children. You need look no further than to Thunderbird, The
American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale for evidence. I taught there for three
years and know the benefits that being bilingual can bring. The starting salary for students who graduate
from Thunderbird is around 100,000 dollars per year. And all of the students there, whether they came from the US or overseas, had dual language instruction as elementary and secondary students in their home countries. With Proposition 203, we can forget about dual language instruction for any children, save those whose wealthy parents can afford to send them to Tesseract. Children under ten years of age who are not already fluent English cannot participate. And children whose first language happens to be English will not have any native speakers of Spanish to learn from and interact with, because those students will be segregated into in English immersion programs. In this case, Proposition 203 will ruin educational opportunities for both language-minority and mainstream students for years and years to come, unless one's parents happen to be rich.

Native American children are an absolute part of this picture, too. Proposition 203 neither respects nor
considers the sovereignty of Native American tribes to educate their children as they want them to be
educated. In this important case, Native American tribes need special consideration. Their languages and their cultures are disappearing at an alarming rate, and this law would all but ensure that this trend not only continues but also increases in speed. This Proposition amounts to cruel and unusual punishment for being a Native American in Arizona.

I want to thank you for your attention. I hope that you will have time to consider these points,
particularly where the rights of language-minority parents, mainstream parents, and Native American
parents are concerned. In sum, Proposition 203 has nothing to do with English-language instruction.
Instead, it is all about parental choice -- and *all* parents of Arizona's children will lose here. The text
of the Proposition should clearly capture this fact, and the current language clearly does not.

Sincerely ,

Dr. Chris Boosalis
California State University, Stanislaus
Department of Teacher Education
Turlock CA 95382

 



Regarding Legislature Analysis For Prop 203
August 1, 2000
Via Facsimile and U.S. Mail

The Honorable Jeff Groscot
Arizona House of Representatives
Chair, Legislative Council
1700 W. Washington Ave., Suite 100
Legislative Services Wing
Phoenix, AZ 85007

Re: Objections to Legislative Council Analysis of Prop. 203

Dear Mr. Groscot:

We write on behalf of Alejandra Sotomayor, a concerned Arizona resident and registered voter, to object
to the Legislative Council's analysis of Proposition 203, adopted on July 19, 2000, and to request that
the Legislative Council amend its analysis to accurately reflect the initiative. The analysis, as currently
written, contains several misstatements, in violation of Arizona Revised Statutes section 19-124(B).

I. The analysis misstates current law regarding bilingual education.

First, the analysis incorrectly states that "[t]he existing laws of this state require that public schools
provide bilingual education instruction to every pupil who is not fluent in English, without a specific time
limit on services."Arizona Revised Statutes section 15-754, however, states that school districts with ten
or more Limited English proficient (LEP) students must provide bilingual education or English as a
Second Language (ESL), and that school districts with nine or fewer must provide bilingual education,
ESL, or an individual education program.A.R.S. 15-754(A), (B). Moreover, consistent with the
statutory grant of discretion, LEP students in Arizona are not all placed in bilingual education programs.
In fact, over 67 percent of LEP students participate in ESL programs, and another 6.7 percent participate
in individual education programs.Lisa Graham Keegan, Superintendent, Report of the Superintendent of
Public Instruction to the Arizona Legislature, English Acquisition Services: A Summary of Bilingual and
English as a Second Language Programs for School Year 1998-99 (January 2000) at 6.

Accordingly, the analysis could be corrected by adding references to ESL and independent education
programs.It could read: "The existing laws of this state require that public schools provide bilingual
education, English as a Second Language, or an independent education program to every pupil who is
not fluent in English, without a specific time limit on services."

II. The analysis misdescribes the special physical or psychological needs waiver.

Second, the analysis states that "Proposition 203 allows parents to apply for waivers from participation
in English immersion programs if their child already knows English, their child is at least ten years of
age or their child has special needs."The initiative, however, provides a waiver for children with "special
and individual physical or psychological needs, above and beyond the child's lack of English
proficiency."Thus, unlike the analysis, which suggests wide discretion for "special needs" waivers, the
initiative is narrowly tailored to special education, and specifically excludes lack of English proficiency,
which might otherwise be thought to constitute a "special need."

Accordingly, the analysis could be corrected by revising it slightly - adding the words "physical" and
"psychological" - to read: "Proposition 203 allows parents to apply for waivers from participation in
English immersion programs if their child already knows English, their child is at least ten years of age
or their child has special physical or psychological needs."

III.The analysis misdescribes the provision of waiver classes.

Last, the analysis states that "[i]f the school grants the waiver, the child will be transferred to classes
that teach English and other subjects through traditional bilingual education instruction or other generally
recognized educational methods that are permitted by law."The initiative, however, provides that
"[i]ndividual schools in which 20 students or more of a given grade level receive a waiver shall be required
to offer such a class; in all other cases, such students must be permitted to transfer to a public school
in which such a class is offered."Thus, unlike the analysis, the initiative does not guarantee that all
children granted waivers will attend waiver classes.Indeed, children at schools where fewer than 20
waivers have been granted will only have the opportunity to transfer to another school offering waiver
classes.

Accordingly, tracking the language of the initiative more closely, the analysis could be revised to read: "If
the school grants the waiver to 20 students or more in a grade level, those children will be transferred to
classes that teach English and other subjects through traditional bilingual education instruction or other
generally recognized methods that are permitted by law.If the school grants the waiver to fewer than 20
students, those children will have the opportunity to transfer to another school offering these classes."

The Supreme Court has concluded that the Legislative Council is required "to produce a neutral
explanation of initiative proposals, avoiding argument or advocacy, and describing the meaning of the
measure, the changes it makes, and its effect if adopted."Fairness and Accountability in Ins. Reform v.
Greene, 180 Ariz. 582, 591 (1994).Under Greene, misstatements like those cited above constitute
impermissible argument or advocacy under the applicable statutory requirements.

Accordingly, we ask that the Legislative Council revise its analysis to eliminate the incorrect statements
regarding Proposition 203.Should the Legislative Council be unwilling to reconsider its analysis, please
notify me as soon as possible, so that we may pursue judicial review without any unnecessary delay.

Sincerely,

Hector Oscar Villagra
Staff Attorney

cc: Betsey Bayless, Secretary of State