October 14, 2019 / Modified oct 14, 2019 2:07 p.m.

Effort to nix English immersion in Arizona finds support

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle point to data suggesting immersion doesn't ease students' struggles.

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AZPM

PHOENIX — Nearly two decades after getting Arizona voters' approval, a law mandating an English-only education for non-native speakers may get repealed in 2020.

Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman intends to make a repeal a top priority and is seeing support even from some Republicans, the Arizona Capitol Times reported.

Known as Proposition 203, the 2000 ballot measure forced English-language learners to speak only English and spend a year in immersion classes. Bilingual education was banned.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say recent data indicates the English-only approach is not easing students' struggles. According to the state Department of Education, the 2017 graduation rate of students with limited English proficiency was around 40%.

"Studies are showing more and more that if you can teach students in both languages simultaneously they can do much better in all subjects," said Republican Rep. Michelle Udall, who chairs the House Education Committee.

Polls taken during the last legislative session indicate that more voters would also be onboard with a repeal, she added.

Critics say non-native speakers end up lagging in their other classes while struggling with learning English.

Reyna Montoya, 28, grew up under the English-only requirements. When she was 13, Montoya was attending a four-hour English-immersion block of class time. Because of that, she wasn't able to go into an honors math class and fell behind in other subjects.

"I was really good at math, but because of the block I couldn't make it work with my schedule," said Montoya, who heads a Phoenix community organization that helps undocumented children. "I felt discouraged that all that seemed to matter about me wasn't that I was good at math, but that I could not speak English."

A proposed appeal nearly made it through the Arizona Legislature last year. A measure sponsored by Republican Rep. John Fillmore made it through the House but never went up for a full Senate vote.

A bill led by Republican Sen. Paul Boyer signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this year has scaled back the English-only education requirements. The legislation decreases the time English Language Learners, or ELL students, have to spend in immersion class from four hours a day to two.

GOP Sen. Kate Brophy-McGee, who is on the Senate Education Committee, is optimistic that the 2020 session will yield different results.

"Everybody, even my most conservative colleagues are for the repeal and that has been the case both times legislation has been offered," Brophy-McGee said. "There are still some hurdles to overcome, but I am absolutely certain we will get there next session."

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