Judge dismisses Horne's suit challenging dual language programs in Arizona schools

By Wayne Schutsky
Published: Friday, March 8, 2024 - 12:09pm

Man at podium with group of people
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
State schools chief Tom Horne speaks about adding PragerU material to the State Department of Education website. Marissa Streit (right), the CEO of PragerU, looks on.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Republican state Superintendent Tom Horne challenging programs some school districts use to educate non-English speaking students.

Horne argued dual language programs, which use a “50-50” language model, violate Proposition 203, a measure approved by voters over two decades ago that requires those students to be taught in English, and only English. 

“Basically, the voter-protected initiative says that students will learn English by being taught English, and all students will be in classes taught in English,” Horne told KJZZ’s The Show shortly before filing the lawsuit last year.  

Horne sued Gov. Katie Hobbs, Attorney General Kris Mayes and a handful of school districts he claimed are violating Prop 203.

In dismissing Horne’s case, Judge Katherine Cooper ruled districts are required to use language immersion models approved by the state Board of Education, and the dual language models used by the 10 districts named in the lawsuit had that approval.

“The State Board, not the School Districts, are responsible for developing and approving the immersion models. ... The School Districts, like all public and charter schools, are required to follow a model as approved by the State Board,” Cooper wrote.

Karina Velarde is standing between her children with a hand on each of their shoulders. Her son, on the right, is 7 years old. Her daughter, on the left, is 3 years old. Both children hold signs that read
Kirsten Dorman/KJZZ
Karina Velarde is pictured here with her son, 7, and daughter, 3. She says the dual language model has been effective for her son.

Similarly, Cooper ruled that neither Hobbs nor Mayes have any role in implementing or approving language models under Prop. 203, so “none of the Defendant Parties has the ability to effect the relief he seeks.”

Mayes did author an opinion last year at the request of Democrats in the Arizona Legislature concluding that only the state board, and not the superintendent of public instruction, has the authority to decide whether schools are in compliance with state laws governing how schools teach English language learners.

Horne’s attorneys argued that opinion is incorrect, but Cooper wrote that is not grounds for a lawsuit.

“An opinion by the Attorney General is just that, an opinion. It is not actionable. It is advisory and has no legally binding effect,” Cooper wrote.

Cooper also ruled that Horne, as superintendent, has no authority under state law to sue over alleged violations of Prop 203. She wrote that the Legislature gave the state Board of Education the authority to monitor school districts’ compliance with state and federal law, and the ability to file lawsuits if violations occur. She also ruled that Prop. 203 gives parents and guardians the power to file lawsuits to enforce that law.

In a statement, Horne said he will appeal the ruling.

“The ruling did not reach the merits of the case, which were controlled by a voter approved initiative that stated clearly that, ‘all children in Arizona Public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English,’ and all ‘children shall be placed in English language classrooms.” Instead, the ruling was that no statute authorizes the Department of Educations [sic] to initiate a lawsuit,” according to the statement.

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