Arizona’s dual language debate has a date in a Maricopa County courtroom Friday morning.

At issue: should 50/50 bilingual education be allowed for students who are still learning English? Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne says no, claiming it not only violates state law, and saying it’s also not effective.

Horne says he is concerned that “ideology” is what is motivating schools and parents.

But other state leaders like Governor Katie Hobbs, Attorney General Kris Mayes, and a number of parents and schools disagree and now, they’re at the center of a lawsuit filed by Horne and the Arizona Department of Education.

Even though she didn’t grow up speaking Spanish, Ellie O’Connor, a fourth-grade student at Biltmore Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, is beginning to master the language.

“I like speaking Spanish,” explains Ellie.

And that also means speaking Spanish with her classmates, half of whom, Ellie says, are native Spanish speakers.

“It’s kind of interesting because I can learn more about them and see how they act and how they are special in every way.”

But if a lawsuit moves forward, there may not be as many English language learners in Ellie’s class.

“It’s about two things,” explains Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne. “It’s about legality and what’s best for the students.”

RELATED: Some Valley schools accused of illegally teaching dual language programs

The lawsuit, filed back in September, challenges the Creighton School District where Ellie is a student, saying the 50/50 dual language model the district is using is breaking Arizona law, specifically when it comes to including students who are still trying to learn English.

“For anyone who can read the English language, it’s clear that dual language is a violation of the law passed by the overwhelming majority of voters.”

Supt. Horne is referencing Proposition 203, a law passed by voters in 2000.

Supt. Horne’s lawsuit cites a part of Prop 203 that states: “All children in Arizona public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English and all children should be placed in English classrooms.”

Fast forward to 2019 –that’s when the legislature passed SB 1014. It gave the State Board of Education more leeway and freedom when it comes to teaching English language learners, allowing the Board to come up with four different teaching models to improve student outcomes and also make sure students who were still learning English were integrated more with other students.

Supt. Horne says English language learners would be allowed to participate in 50-50 dual language programs, but only if they can prove they’re proficient in English and if they get what’s known as a “statutory waiver.”

“They’re going to have to become proficient in English because they’re going to have to operate in this country and learn in American schools,” Supt. Horne explains.

Supt. Horne has even threatened to yank funding from school districts found in violation of Prop 203, although some have disputed whether he has the legal authority to do so.

ABC15’s Nick Ciletti asked Supt. Horne what he made of criticism from some that what he’s doing is an overreach.

“On the contrary – overreach is a silly thing to say,” Horne explains. “All I am doing is what is in the best interest of the students and in conformity with the law – happily the two things are the same.”

But not everyone agrees.

RELATED: Dual language programs educate many students in the Valley

“It’s exciting that we are finally realizing if we just learn one language, that’s not enough,” said Maria Salas Murphy in a 2022 interview with ABC15.

Salas Murphy helped create one of the Valley’s first dual language programs back in the 1990s when she was working for Gilbert Public Schools. For Salas Murphy, who currently works in the Kyrene District, it’s also very personal.

“I was seeing the needs of our ELL population in Gilbert…Those students are near and dear to my heart because I was one of them. Being in junior high was a tough place to be not knowing English. But at the same time, realizing how valuable it is for them to keep going in Spanish.”

Last July, the group Stand for Children circulated a petition supporting bilingual education and delivered it to Supt. Horne and also to the State Board of Education. Organizers tell ABC15 they collected more than 2,800 signatures in less than two weeks to support their cause.

Ellie’s dad, a fellow Spanish speaker and professor, says being in a class with kids who need help learning English is also helping his daughter at the same time.

“For me, it comes down to being able to build those bridges with other people we encounter on an everyday basis here in Arizona,” he says. “This is kind of an additional ‘superpower’ that kids in the classroom are working on.”

So where do things stand right now?

Supt. Horne is asking a judge to decide who’s right in this case – there’s a hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 12 in Maricopa County Superior Court. Count on ABC15 to let you know what happens.