Republican lawmaker again proposes to repeal Arizona’s English-only law

Amethyst Hinton Sainz, an English Learner educator, teaches a lesson on "mixed emotions" at Rhodes Junior High School in Mesa. Photo by Kelsey Mo | Cronkite News

Rep. John Fillmore is again proposing to repeal a 19-year-old voter-approved law that forbids students who are learning English from getting instruction in any other language. 

Fillmore, an Apache Junction Republican, introduced a proposal Tuesday to repeal the state’s English-only law. His proposal last year won bipartisan support in the Arizona House of Representatives but failed in the Senate. 

The measure was approved on a 59-1 vote in the House of Representatives and was unanimously approved by the Senate Education Committee, but it stalled for over a month in the Senate. The proposal then picked up steam as the session wound to a close, but sine die arrived before it received a formal vote by the entire Senate.

Fillmore’s House Concurrent Resolution 2001 seeks to repeal Arizona’s English-only model, officially known as Structured English Immersion. The framework for the state’s SEI model was mainly established by Proposition 203 in 2000. As a result of this law, all English learners – children who have a home language other than English – can’t be taught in their home language and are placed in English-only classrooms.

Fillmore’s measure last year also had the support of the Arizona Department of Education and education groups like the Arizona Education Association. A poll also showed voters would favor repealing the English-only law

If Fillmore’s proposal advances in 2020, the repeal would go before voters in the November general election. 

Hoffman: It’s time to repeal English-only

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman recently wrote about her support for a repeal of the state’s English-only rules. 

Hoffman, who since kindergarten received instruction in English and Japanese, said Arizona is the only state in the country with “a rigid law that segregates and disadvantages” English learner students. 

She added that said these 83,000 students are falling behind because “we’re not teaching them the right way.”

Not only is it ineffective, it’s offensive, Hoffman said. 

“By prioritizing English alone, we devalue and disrespect the native languages of thousands of Arizona students when, really, we should be taking the opportunity to preserve and revitalize these languages for generations to come,” she wrote. “Let’s give our students who are learning English the chance at success they deserve. Let’s use data and research to guide our policies. And let’s value and celebrate the diversity of language and culture in our great state.”

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.