Arizona school superintendent claims some dual language programs are operating illegally

Proposition 203 was passed by voters 23 years ago. Known as "English-only Immersion," the initiative states that Arizona students whose first language is not English should only be taught in English language classrooms.

Tom Horne has put at least 26 school districts on notice, saying dual language programs are in violation of the law.

"Our guidance is to abide by the initiative," he said. "The initiative says you can have dual language if you have a waiver, but you can't take kids who don't speak any English and put them in a dual language program."

Educators and parents protested at the capitol Thursday, saying Horne is going beyond his authority. Horne's office has asked the attorney general's office for legal advice. The attorney general has not issued a response so far.

"Superintendent Horne doesn't necessarily have the authority," Sen. Christine Marsh said. "Now of course we gotta wait for the attorney general's opinion on that, but as of right now, it appears that what he is claiming he can do, he can't actually do."

Until the attorney general clarifies the legality of dual language programs, schools are asking the state department of education for assurance that their funding will not be axed, but it doesn't appear they will get that.

"We have to operate legally, and the initiative requires that," Horne said.

The new school year begins next week for some school districts, causing a lot of uncertainty about whether to continue dual language programs.

Data from the 2021 school year indicates about 100,000 students in Arizona are English learners.