Frustrated by the way California's law has been interpreted - nearly 170,000 students, or 12 percent of English learners, have won the right to continue in bilingual classrooms there - Unz made Proposition 203 more restrictive in numerous ways. Among other things, the initiative:
Opponents of Proposition 203 began organizing more than two years before the election, determined to avoid the strategic mistakes of their California colleagues in combating Ron Unz. In particular, they resolved to mount a vigorous defense of bilingual education and to organize a strong grassroots effort among the program's core constituencies.
Arizonans stressed the injustice of denying language-minority parents a say in their children's education in a state where the principle of school choice is virtually sacrosanct. Out of about 140,000 English learners in the state's public schools, 45,000 - or 32 percent - are now enrolled in bilingual education, at the discretion of parents and local districts. Unlike California, Arizona has never imposed a statewide mandate for bilingual education or any other program for teaching these students.
The initiative's opponents also highlighted the potentially devastating impact on programs aimed at revitalizing Native American languages. All of the state's 21 tribal languages are threatened with extinction because most Indian children grow up speaking only English. Up until now, the Navajo, Tohono O'odham, Apache, Hualapai, and other tribes had placed hopes for reversing this trend on bilingual education as well as Native language immersion. Under Proposition 203, they may be forced to dismantle these programs.
Despite the strong arguments mustered by opponents, regional and political rivalries sabotaged hopes of building a unified campaign. Four major groups vied for leadership of the "No on 203" forces, complicating the tasks of raising campaign funds and communicating a coherent message. Because resources were limited - less than 10 percent of what opponents of the California initiative had raised in 1998 - so was TV advertising to educate the electorate. By a slight margin, opponents appear to have outspent the English for the Children forces. But Ron Unz, looking at lopsided opinion polls, saw little need for a paid media effort.