Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/0726charterruling26.html

Charters bypass English-only law
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 26, 2003
Pat Kossan

Arizona's controversial English-only law does not apply to the state's charter schools, the attorney general said Friday, meaning that charters are free to teach in Spanish and even use Spanish language textbooks.

In a legal opinion, Terry Goddard said the law would undermine the purpose of charters, which is to give parents an alternative to district

In 2000, voters approved a law requiring students who were not fluent in English to be placed in English-immersion classes, in effect banning bilingual education. But it never mentioned charter schools, which are exempt from many restrictions that govern school districts.

Charter schools are run by individuals or companies as businesses, but operate with state taxpayer money, averaging $5,000 a student.

Arizona schools chief Tom Horne doubts that many charters will take advantage of the freedom, because it comes at a cost. Charter schools
that do not follow the English-only law are not eligible for the extra $300 a pupil that the state pays to help children learn English, Horne said.

Horne, a critic of bilingual education, warned that charter students must still take state tests in English. If scores don't improve over three years, the state can put the charter out of business.

Kurt Davis, a member of the State Board for Charter Schools, is pleased that parents who disagree with the English-only law have options.

"For certain parents who want to see their children walk out of school fluent in two languages, this is their choice," he said.

Silvia Benitez of northeast Phoenix is one parent who's fighting the English-only law. She applauded the ruling.

She called the attorney general's opinion respectful of families seeking bilingual classes, but she doubts there will be enough charter schools
to satisfy parents' needs.

"I'm disappointed this is not an option for every child in this state," she said.

Reach the reporter at pat.kossan@arizonarepublic.com.