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HomenewsEducationDual language programs face a threat in Arizona

Dual language programs face a threat in Arizona

In Arizona, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is targeting a growing number of dual language programs with threats of closure, with claims they violate Proposition 203.

Horne – an ardent supporter of English-only immersion, maintains that dual language programs violate Proposition 203 (also known as English for the Children) if they include students partially proficient or not yet proficient in English, which many do. Proposition 203 is a ballot initiative which was passed by Arizona voters on Nov 7, 2000 and requires English learners to be taught only in English. The law ultimately led to banning bilingual education for learners of English.

Proposition 203 states “(A)ll children in Arizona public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English and all children shall be placed in English language classrooms,” 

In 2019, a law was passed that directed the Arizona State Board of Education to design more models to equip school districts with more flexibility to teach English learners. This resulted in four new models, with three focusing on English and a fourth allowing a dual language curriculum and teaching style, with Spanish typically the second language. 

As of 2023, Horne strongly contests dual language immersion, telling The Arizona Republic dual language programs that include English learners are “not consistent with the (Proposition 203) initiative”. 

Speaking to English learner educators during a workshop this month, Adela Santa Cruz, Deputy Associate Superintendent of the Arizona Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition Services, said dual language programs will remain in effect for the coming school year. She added that Horne’s office has asked the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for legal advice to determine whether dual language programs conform with Proposition 203.

According to University of Arizona education professor Mary Carol Combs, schools in Arizona had the flexibility to use a variety of teaching styles and programs for English learners prior to Proposition 203. These included transitional bilingual education programs and dual language programs. 

Data from the 2021-22 school year counted approximately 93,379 students as English learners – with a significant rise from 79,631 2017-18. The number of English learners in Arizona has been increasing in recent years, due to immigration. English learners make up roughly 8.5% of all students in Arizona and parents are asked to identify their child’s language proficiency with a home language survey, when signing up for a school place.

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