Arizona Daily Star

Saturday, August 19, 2000

Measure's Language Nullified
High court orders bilingual proposal's paragraph revised.
By HOWARD FISCHER, Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX - A legislative explanation of a ballot measure eliminating bilingual education is illegally misleading, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled yesterday. 

The justices ordered the Legislative Council to revise the first paragraph of its analysis to comply with its legal "obligation to provide an impartial description of the initiative measure, without argument or advocacy." 

But the chances of that happening may be minimal: House Speaker Jeff Groscost said he doubts he could reconvene the committee before the pamphlets are scheduled to go to the printer next week. 

Paragraph could be stricken 

If the committee does not meet by that deadline, the high court ordered that the offending paragraph be stricken from the pamphlet, which is provided free to all registered voters. 

Proposition 203 would scrap bilingual education programs and force educators to teach only in English. 

Students who enter school without English fluency would be placed in "structured English immersion" courses while continuing their regular school work. Supporters said that, even with that provision, students who need more help would be able to get it. 

Lawmakers' explanation 

The explanation crafted by lawmakers said that existing state laws "require that public schools provide bilingual education instruction to every pupil who is not fluent in English, without a specific time limit on services." 

The court agreed with attorney Hector Villagra who argued that is a "plain misstatement of existing law." 

Villagra, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said two thirds of students with limited English-speaking skills are not in true bilingual programs but are in English as a Second Language programs, which he said are different. 

Yesterday's victory was not complete. Villagra also had asked the court to invalidate other parts of the Legislative Council explanation. 

One of those sections states that passage of Proposition 203 would let parents seek waivers from having their youngsters participate in English immersion programs if the children are at least 10 years old and already know English. 

Limits on rights ignored 

Villagra said the analysis ignores the limits on those rights and "completely omits any mention of the broad rights parents now enjoy" in whether their children participate in bilingual programs. 

The justices said they were not necessarily disagreeing with Villagra's contention. 

Instead, they said his request came late - nearly a month after the Legislative Council action - and would require a "comprehensive rewriting" to meet his objections.