Horne Takes Hobbs And Mayes To Court Over English Language Learners

Horne Takes Hobbs And Mayes To Court Over English Language Learners

By Daniel Stefanski |

Arizona’s Republican Schools Chief is taking the state’s Democrat Governor and Attorney General to court.

Last week, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne announced that he had “filed a lawsuit against Governor Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes for a judicial declaration that all schools must obey a voter passed and protected initiative that English language learners must be taught in English immersion rather than dual language.”

In a statement that accompanied the press release, Horne said, “Governor Hobbs is named as a defendant because of a court of appeals decision stating that the governor is a proper defendant in these kinds of cases because of the constitutional requirement that she see it to it that the laws are faithfully executed. Attorney General Mayes is named because the same case states that an action questioning the constitutionality of a law names the Attorney General. A law passed by the legislature in 2019 has been interpreted by some as authorizing dual language instruction. This is incorrect because the voter-protection law is part of the Arizona Constitution and any change to a voter-protected initiative must further the purpose of what voters intended. Dual language instruction is the opposite of the initiative’s purpose.”

The Arizona Department of Education provided context for the initiative in question, adding, “The initiative, which passed by a margin of over 60%, states explicitly: ‘All children in Arizona public schools should be taught English by being taught in English, and all children shall be placed in English language classrooms.’”

Horne also said, “The fundamental purpose of the initiative is that students be taught throughout the school day in English, so they become proficient in English quickly, and can succeed academically, and not that they be taught half a day in another language, which would stunt their ability to master English.”

According to the Department, “the lawsuit also names as a defendant the Creighton school district, which is among the handful of districts defying the law established by the voter approved and protected initiative. The district’s rate of English Language Learners becoming proficient in English last year was 5.1%. This contrasts with some districts referred to in the complaint that have structured English immersion and who’s rates range from 23.87% to 33.03%.”

The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court for the State of Arizona in the County of Maricopa. Horne asked the Court to declare that “A.R.S. 15-756.01 is unconstitutional if its intent was to authorize dual language without waiver, because it does not further the voter-protected initiative’s purpose that children be taught in English for the entire school day, in order for them to quickly become proficient in English”; and that the State Board’s dual language model, if it is without statutory waivers, is in violation of Arizona law, and the Defendant Attorney General’s opinion that district and charter schools can rely on the State Board’s dual language model without waivers is legal error.”

The court filing from the Arizona Department of Education fulfills a promise made by Horne earlier this summer to take this issue to the judiciary. 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.’”

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes issued an opinion to answer 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.

In her opinion, 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.”

The battle over the Structured English Immersion law is the second significant conflict between the Attorney General and Superintendent this year. Horne and Mayes have been locked in escalating public disputes over the state’s universal school choice program.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Horne Continues Fight For English Language Learners

Horne Continues Fight For English Language Learners

By Daniel Stefanski |

Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction is continuing his two-front political battle with the state’s attorney general.  

On Monday, Republican Superintendent Tom Horne emailed the Office of the Arizona Attorney General about the issue of enforcing the state’s voter-approved English language instruction model.

Horne highlighted that “the voter-protected initiative, formalized as A.R.S. §15-752, specifically states that ‘all children in Arizona public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English, and all children should be placed in English language classrooms.’ ….The voter-protected initiative is not subject to being overruled by the Attorney General, the State Board, or anyone, including me. I must faithfully execute the law as it is written.”  

The email from Horne followed correspondence between a Section Chief Counsel in Attorney General Kris Mayes’ Office and Horne’s Office. The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) noted that they had “continued to receive complaints from school districts that claim ADE is requiring Waivers for any ELL students enrolling in Dual Language Immersion (DLI) classes. If that is so, ADE (Arizona Department of Education) is acting contrary to law, as Waivers are not required for Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) Models approved by the State Board of Education.”

The AGO warned that “If the Department continues to place barriers in front of schools and their students trying to register for DLI classes, like requiring Waivers under A.R.S. 15-753, the Department’s actions exposes the Agency (and potentially individuals) to legal liability.”  

The Superintendent took issue with the AGO’s use of “barriers” in its email, countering, “It is not erecting a barrier that I have urged school districts to not violate the law. I have pointed out a provision of the statute: Under the initiative, if a parent of any student in Arizona sues and prevails for violation of the statute, the School Board members and Superintendents responsible can be removed from office and unable to run for election again for five years.”

Horne called the AGO’s warning “offensive and unworthy of the Attorney General’s office.” He predicted that Mayes would “not win legal arguments to ignore voter-protected initiatives by making those kind of empty threats.” He promised to remain committed to his duty to uphold state law regardless of the threats made against him and his office.  

He then took time to tout the benefits of a structured English immersion model, saying, “When I took office in 2003, bilingual education was common. The one-year rate to become proficient in English was a pathetic 4%. At that rate almost no one would ever become proficient, and they would fail in the economy…After we adopted structured English immersion, and put a lot of emphasis on teaching teachers how to do it, the proficiency rate went up to 31%. At that rate, after three or four years, almost everyone becomes proficient.”

In conclusion, Horne exhorted the AGO to “pay attention to what is in the academic interests of the students, as shown by the data, and what is required by the voter-protected initiative, and stop making threats.”  

The schools chief’s release added that “Horne intends to pursue this matter in a legal challenge,” assuring Arizonans that this saga between the two state officials would continue for months to come.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Arizona Department Of Education Accuses Schools Of Not Teaching English To Migrant Students

Arizona Department Of Education Accuses Schools Of Not Teaching English To Migrant Students

By Corinne Murdock |

The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) warned schools that not teaching the English language to migrant students violates state law.

In a press release issued Monday, ADE Superintendent Tom Horne further warned that schools neglecting to teach the English language to migrant students, classified as English Language Learners (ELLs), were at risk of losing funding. A 50-50 dual language immersion model used in some schools, commonly referred to as “dual language” classes, prompted the ADE declaration.

The Arizona Legislative Council (ALC) clarified in a memo to State Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-LD-30) that ELL students must learn class subjects in the English language. 

 “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,” wrote the ALC.

If not, schools stand to lose ELL funds. Any elected school officials or administrators responsible for the violation are also liable to a lawsuit, and could face removal from office and a bar from running again for five years. 

State law established by the voter-led Proposition 203, passed in 2000, requires ELL students to be taught English, be placed in English language classrooms, and be educated through a sheltered English immersion environment for at most a year. State law clarifies that no subject matter may be taught in any language other than English within the immersion environment. 

The 50-50 dual language immersion model, however, teaches students in languages other than English half the time during the immersion period. As ALC noted, this structure wouldn’t satisfy the statutory requirement for structured English immersion. 

“That definition prohibits any subject matter from being taught ‘in any language other than English,’ and the model clearly allows for some subject matter to be taught in a language other than English,” stated the ALC.

Horne said that during his first stint as superintendent 20 years ago, English proficiency increased from four percent to 29 percent within one year. According to Horne, Prop 203 wasn’t enforced throughout the first few years of its existence. 

“When I started my first term as state Superintendent of Schools in 2003, the initiative was unenforced, and bilingual education was a method of teaching in Arizona schools. As a result, a pathetic 4% of students became proficient in English in one year. At that rate, almost none would ever become proficient, and they would fail in the economy,” stated Horne. “We implemented structured English immersion, combined with intensive classes, on how to teach English immersion. The rate of proficiency in English within one year went up to 29%. At that rate within three or four years, almost everyone would become proficient in English.”

Horne claimed that “ideologically motivated” professors favoring bilingual education stood opposed to real-world data, and resisted his attempt to impose Prop 203 initially.

“When we taught these classes, a number of teachers arrived hostile, because of ideology,” said Horne. “But by the end, our structured English immersion teachers were getting standing ovations and very high evaluations.”

Horne clarified that this restriction on dual language only applies to students prior to their attaining proficiency in English. After that, students may engage in dual language programs.

“The data shows that structured English immersion is the best way to achieve this, and the law requires it,” said Horne.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Legislators Quietly Withdraw Bill to Require Students Held Back For Not Meeting Basic Criteria

Legislators Quietly Withdraw Bill to Require Students Held Back For Not Meeting Basic Criteria

By Corinne Murdock |

After House passage, a bill to require teachers to hold back any K-4 students if they don’t meet promotional criteria was withdrawn. It was scheduled to appear before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

State Representative John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction) was the legislation sponsor. The bill would have required school boards to enact policies and procedures with teeth to enforce these changes.

However, the bill had major exceptions to the rule it sought to establish.

The bill would have allowed any third graders who were English language learners (ELL), experiencing a special education referral or evaluation, diagnosed with a “significant reading impairment” or disability to progress to the fourth grade without meeting criteria, or receiving intervention and remedial services. The exceptions would have also extended to any third grader who demonstrated “sufficient reading skills” or “adequate process” toward third grade reading standards.

Third grade is likely emphasized in this bill because it’s largely acknowledged as a critical progression point for children in their literacy. However, these exceptions wouldn’t have applied to third graders only.

The bill would have extended similar exceptions to first through fourth graders if they were given a special exception by the district’s governing board, an ELL, in the process of special education referral or evaluation, or diagnosed with a “significant reading impairment” or disability.

The House had passed it originally, with amendments, back in February along party lines.

Democrats opposed to the bill said that it would make students more likely to drop out and end up as criminals. They accused the bill of simply “failing” and “forced flunking” of students.

Certain studies have challenged that narrative. 2017 research from Harvard indicated that holding students back in the third grade didn’t increase their likelihood of dropping out of high school.

Republicans in support of the bill responded in kind.

“That’s the key word: what they need. What they need is education. They need to be able to prepare to go forward,” said State Representative Kevin Payne (R-Peoria). “If they’re being pushed along without the proper knowledge, that’s setting them up for failure. We’re not failing them, we’re holding them back. There’s a big difference.”

Fillmore ran a similar bill last year, one that would’ve extended to all grade levels.

Notes on the bill indicate that it was withdrawn from committee last week.Corinne Murdock is a contributing reporter for AZ Free News. In her free time, she works on her books and podcasts. Follow her on Twitter, @CorinneMurdock or email tips to corinnejournalist@gmail.com.