UnidosUS-Backed Arizona Bill Asking Voters to Consider a Repeal of English-Only Instruction Passes Key Milestone in State Senate

New UnidosUS-sponsored legislation in Arizona will give voters a chance to reconsider the state’s English-only instruction policies in 2020.

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The bill, HRC2026, passed unanimously in the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, following last month’s 59-1 vote in the Arizona State House of Representatives. This is a historical milestone for English-only repeal efforts as the bill now heads to the full Senate floor.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the latest iteration of federal laws governing equal access to K-12 education, states are required to make every effort to accommodate all students.

English learners are considered one of the more vulnerable student groups, especially in states that don’t offer dual language learning or native language assessments for academic placement. Arizona, a state with a high concentration of ELs (approximately 100,000 students, according to the Arizona Department of Education’s ESSA plan), is a prime example. For the past two decades, English learners in its Structured English Immersion program have been pulled from their regular coursework and placed into four-hour blocks daily until they are considered English proficient.

“Why are we penalizing the (English learner) students for four hours and them not having the opportunity to go out and study geography or history or math, while the other kids were?” said bill sponsor John Fillmore—who is Republican—as quoted by the Arizona Mirror. He added that the current policies cause native English speakers also lose on the opportunity to learn a second language from their peers.

“HCR 2026 is a game-changer for students in Arizona by helping to push the concept of dual-language learning as a vital practice in the state’s education system,” says Amalia Chamorro, Associate Director of UnidosUS’s Education Policy Project.


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Related Efforts and Legislation

Momentum for HCR 2026 comes on the heels of SB 1014, recently-enacted legislation in Arizona that increases flexibility around the four-hour Structured English Immersion (SEI) block to two hours per day, 10 hours per week, or 360 hours per year for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Starting in sixth grade, the English-immersion requirement is reduced to under two hours per day, eight hours per week, or 300 hours per year.

The bill also allows public schools and teachers to develop their own research-based models according to the needs of their individual students.

Civil rights and education leaders say SB 1014 is a step in the right direction by providing more flexibility for EL instruction, but if we truly want to help ensure kids learn English and learn core subjects, Arizona’s English only laws must be repealed.

Arizona education advocate Geoff Esposito is working alongside UnidosUS to help spread the word about the pitfalls of English-only instruction. He wants to make policymakers and the general public aware that ELs don’t currently enjoy the same dual language opportunities as their native English-speaking peers who might be enrolled in classes for languages such as Spanish or Mandarin.

“There are dual-language programs out there that we know are working for other kids to learn another language. Why shouldn’t that same opportunity be available to help teach kids English?” he asks.

Esposito envisions a school system in which ELs would be better integrated into the state’s multilingual reality, one where native speakers of other common languages such as Spanish, Mandarin, and Navajo, one of the most widely used Native American languages, could simultaneously teach their peers what they know as they build up their English proficiency.

Ylenia Aguilar, UnidosUS Education Organizer in Arizona
Ylenia Aguilar, UnidosUS Education Organizer in Arizona

To further that vision, UnidosUS’s Arizona Education Organizer Ylenia Aguilar is coordinating a legislative briefing on March 21 between state lawmakers and advocates of dual-language learning. The program is aimed at giving all state legislators insight to how English-only policies impact the lives of their constituents.

Kate Wright, Deputy Associate Superintendent of the Office of English Language Acquisition Services at the Arizona Department of Education, will moderate a panel on the topic featuring:

  • Miriam Romero, 2018 Arizona EL Teacher of the Year
  • Lily Matos DeBlieux, 2018 Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) Superintendent of the Year
  • Monica Artea, Master Teacher at Osborn School District and parent of a dual-language student
  • Cristian Solorio, Governing Board Member of the Alhambra Elementary School District
  • Kristel Foster, Program Specialist in the Language Acquisition Department of the Sunnyside School District and Governing Board Member of Tucson Unified School District
  • Houda Makansi, 2018 Arizona EL Student Success Story Winner

“I am excited for our upcoming legislative briefing, as we continue to engage our Arizona state legislators to address the state’s English-only policies, which have had a generational impact on students, parents, and teachers,” Aguilar says. “It’s time to recognize that dual-language programs are necessary in an increasingly global economy, and that if we want to prepare our Arizona students to be its future workforce, we need to prepare them to be multilingual.”

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