English Language Proficiency Requirements

Arizona charter law states charter schools cannot exclude students on the basis of “proficiency in the English language” (A.R.S. § 15-184(F)). Therefore, they may not create barriers to enrollment for students who are learning English or whose families speak another language at home. Charter schools must also provide students who lack English proficiency access to an English language-learning program.

While charter schools are required by Arizona law to determine whether English is the primary language spoken in the home (A.R.S. § 15-756(A)), they should do so in a manner that lets parents know that English proficiency is not a prerequisite to enrollment. To help schools meet their legal obligations without intimidating parents or students who are not fluent English speakers, the Arizona Department of Education created a home language survey known as the Primary Home Language Other Than English, or PHLOTE, form.
 
The PHLOTE form lets parents know that their responses will be used to determine whether their children will be assessed for English language proficiency. But at least 49 charter schools ask language questions – such as “What’s the primary language spoken by the student?” – and do not provide the PHLOTE form. Unexplained language questions do not make it clear that the responses will not affect a student’s chances for enrollment and may discourage a parent from applying for enrollment.
 
In addition, consistent with the federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, charter schools should provide enrollment and admission information in the language spoken by the parents and students. The most commonly spoken language in Arizona other than English is Spanish (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates), yet only 26 percent of the Arizona charter schools reviewed, or 123 schools, provide their enrollment documents in both English and Spanish.
 
RECOMMENDATIONS
  • Schools should provide enrollment documents in English and Spanish and other languages as appropriate to the surrounding population.
  • All charter schools should adopt the PHLOTE form.
  • The Arizona Department of Education should revise the PHLOTE form to make explicit the information it collects will not be used to decide whether a student can enroll at a school.
  • Schools should make clear that they have ELL programs.

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