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Arizona House Committee Passes Bill To Bring English-Only Instruction Law Before Voters

The House education committee on Tuesday passed  a bill that would allow voters to decide if they want to repeal or keep a 2000 policy known as the English-only education law.

Proposition 203 was passed by voters more than 20 years ago and establishes requirements for instruction for English language learners (ELL) in public schools.

Currently, ELL students are required to spend at least two hours of their school day in English-only instruction with other students who don’t speak English.

This can have unintended consequences, said Rep. Michelle Udall, the committee's chair. 

“I’ve seen them pulled into their English language class not being around their peers, and that a lot of times in that class they end up speaking their native language instead of learning English," she said. 

This method, known as sheltered English immersion, is not the best way for students to learn English, Udall added.

"The data shows that when you’re not around people that speak the language you’re not going to learn it," she said. 

If this law is repealed, Udall said English language learners would be able to spend more time with their English-speaking peers. Schools could also establish dual-language immersion programs for non-native speakers. 

But Rep. Quang Nguyen, a former ELL student himself, did not agree with this idea. 

"Kids are like sponges. They're extremely intelligent," he said. "If you thrown me in the water, I only have two options: sink or swim. And I will tell 100% of non-English speaking kids will swim if you give them the opportunity to." 

But ELL students had one of the lowest graduation rates among Arizona students in the 2019-2020 school year, according to  data from the AZ School Report Cards. 

If the bill by Sen. T.J. Shope passes, the policy would go before the voters in the next general election. 

Rocio Hernandez was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2022.