By Daniel Stefanski |
Arizona’s Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction is pushing back after the state’s Democrat Attorney General issued a legal opinion on a Structured English Immersion law.
On Tuesday, Superintendent Tom Horne issued a press release to call a recent formal opinion from Attorney General Kris Mayes “ideologically driven.”
The Attorney General’s opinion answered the question of “which state entity has statutory authority to eliminate a model of structured English immersion approved by the State Board of Education.” Mayes sent her findings to Democrat Representatives Jennifer Pawlik, Laura Terech, Nancy Gutierrez, and Judy Schwiebert.
Mayes wrote, “Arizona law is clear that the Board has the sole authority to eliminate or modify an approved SEI model. The Board also has the sole authority to determine whether a school district or charter school has failed to comply with Arizona law governing English language learners. Only those school districts and charter schools found by the Board to be noncompliant are barred from receiving monies from the English language learner fund.”
The Attorney General declined to answer the Representatives’ question of “whether the Dual Language Immersion SEI Model approved by the Board is consistent with Arizona law.”
Horne disagreed with the opinion, stating, “The Attorney General, for ideological reasons, wanted to rule in favor of the Democrat legislators who favor dual language. So, she refused to comment on whether a dual language program without waivers violates the voter protected initiative (Proposition 203). She simply said that the State Board of Education has the power to adapt models under legislation. Neither the legislature nor the board has the power to overrule a voter approved initiative. Legislative Council found that dual language without a waiver does violate the initiative.”
The scuttle between Horne, Mayes, and Democrat legislators began on June 19, when the Superintendent announced that “public schools that are not teaching English Language Learners in English as required by state law risk losing funds for this legal violation.” Horne said at the time, “Proposition 203, the voter protected initiative passed in 2000, specified that classes for English Language Learners must be taught in English: ‘all children in Arizona public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English and all children shall be placed in English language classrooms.’”
Horne also included a memorandum from the Arizona Legislative Council to make his case, which read, “If the 50-50 dual language immersion model allows students to be taught subject matter in a language other than English as part of structured English immersion, the model likely violates Proposition 203.”
Later, he countered opposition to his action, saying, “In 2000, more than 925,000 Arizonans – 63 percent of voters – approved Proposition 203, making English immersion the law…. Before I took office the first time in 2003, when they had bilingual education, Lisa Graham Keegan reported to the legislature an English proficiency rate of 4%. The English proficiency rates for structured English immersion, by contrast for the last four years when I was last Superintendent (2007-2010), were an average of 31% each for those years.”
He then shared English proficiency rates for four Arizona schools, that the Superintendent asserted have had dual language for several years. According to the Superintendent’s release, those four schools had English Proficiency Rates of under 10%.
Earlier this month, Superintendent Horne posted a statistic on English Immersion success, writing: “English immersion gives students three quarters of a year more education, they’re 50% more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree, and earn significantly more in the labor market.”
In his response to Attorney General Mayes’ opinion, Horne charted the path forward for his battle with the state’s top prosecutor. Horne said, “This will obviously be resolved in the courts. Until that happens, the State Board will not withhold funds. However, there are other remedies in the initiative for violation of its requirements. Any parent can sue a school or district that adopts dual language without waivers, and if the parent is successful, the school board, and the superintendent, and maybe the principal must leave office and cannot apply for their offices for five years. That will be a considerable incentive for school districts not to adopt dual language without waivers.”
The battle over the Structured English Immersion law is the second significant conflict between the Attorney General and Superintendent this year. In May, Attorney General Mayes said on television that “there are no controls” on the ESA program, “no accountability,” that “they” (presumably parents) are “spending hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money,” that this “needs to be looked at,” and that it’s (her) “responsibility to do that” as Arizona’s “top law enforcement officer.”
At that time, AZ Free News featured Horne’s reaction to Mayes’ comments: “Under my predecessor, who was unfriendly to universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), the laws were not strictly enforced, and therefore funds were used for non-educational purposes, including restaurants and clothing stores. Because I am the defender of the ESA program, I want the laws to be strictly adhered to. I want to ensure that not one penny is used for a non-educational expense. Arizona is the first in the nation, and a model for the rest of the country. I am determined that all laws be strictly enforced, and all funds be used only for valid educational purposes. I’m disappointed that Attorney General Mayes has chosen, at every single opportunity, politics over the law.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.