Supt. Tom Horne files lawsuit over English language learning in Arizona schools

Sep 7, 2023, 1:00 PM

Stock image of English class. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne filed a lawsui...

A lawsuit over English language learning in Arizona schools was filed Sept. 6, 2023. (Pexels Photo)

(Pexels Photo)

PHOENIX – Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is taking the battle over English language learning to court.

Horne, a Republican, submitted a lawsuit Wednesday in an effort to ensure that the state’s K-12 schools teach English language learners (ELLs) through immersion rather than dual language models with half the day in English and the other half in a different language.

The Maricopa County Superior Court filing names Gov. Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes, both Democrats, and the Creighton School District as defendants. Creighton is an east Phoenix district with 10 elementary schools.

Why is Tom Horne suing over English language learning?

Horne believes the immersion model produces better results. His suit also argues that dual language models violate Proposition 203, an initiative on language education approved by more than 60% of Arizona voters in 2000.

“The fundamental purpose of the initiative is that students be taught throughout the school day in English, so they become proficient in English quickly, and can succeed academically, and not that they be taught half a day in another language, which would stunt their ability to master English,” Horne said in a press release Thursday.

Prop 203 states “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.” The law includes exemptions for students whose parents request waivers.

As the elected superintendent, Horne leads the Arizona Department of Education and is responsible for enforcing K-12 public and charter school system policies set by the State Board of Education. However, he has been at odds with the State Board over the ELL issue.

Creighton and other unnamed districts are using a State Board-approved dual language model without obtaining parental waivers, according to the lawsuit. Horne argues that this violates Prop 203.

Why are AG Kris Mayes and Gov. Katie Hobbs defendants?

Horne also alleges that Mayes was mistaken earlier this year when she issued an opinion about who has the authority over determining language learning models.

“The ELL statutes do not authorize the superintendent or the Department [of Education] to determine that a school district or charter school is not in compliance with the ELL statutes,” Mayes wrote.

Mayes issued the opinion in July after Horne threatened to withhold funding from schools that used dual language instruction.

Hobbs is included as a defendant “because of the constitutional requirement that she see it to it that the laws are faithfully executed,” Horne said.

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Supt. Tom Horne files lawsuit over English language learning in Arizona schools