Area Voters in Step With State on Prop. 227

At 66%, English-only initiative has only marginally greater support in region known for its antipathy to bilingual education.

In what some observers considered a surprising outcome in traditionally conservative Orange County, where the movement to dismantle bilingual education statewide began, the number of voters in favor of an English-only initiative is no greater than other parts of the state, according to a recent poll.

A Times Orange County poll conducted over the weekend showed that two in three registered voters would approve Proposition 227, which would ban bilingual education and place children with limited English skills in a year of intense English-only instruction.

The latest results are lower than last October’s statewide approval rating of the initiative of 80%, and are comparable to last month’s 63% state figure.
Both of those polls were conducted by The Times.

“You can’t call two-thirds of the voters weak support,” said Cheryl Katz, director of the Times Orange County poll. “But one might expect the numbers to be higher in an area as conservative as Orange County.”

Opponents of the initiative said the newest data indicates that Orange County voters are changing their minds and turning against the proposition,
which was conceived by Santa Ana elementary teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman and Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz.

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“Even in the heart of what was once an area in strong opposition to bilingual education, voters are saying Proposition 227 is not the answer,”
said Holli Thier, spokeswoman for Citizens for an Educated America, which is fighting against the initiative. “It’s a very clear statement that voters are starting to pay attention to what the ballot initiative really means.’

But supporters of the so-called “English for the Children”
initiative said they still have the upper hand with a majority of voters in favor of the ballot measure.

“You’re always going to see a fluctuation in numbers from year-to-year comparisons,” said Sheri Annis, spokeswoman for the English for the Children campaign. “There’s still very strong support for the initiative.”

The June primary poll conducted by Baldassare Associates surveyed 600 Orange County registered voters by telephone. A computer-generated random sample of phone numbers was used. The sample reflected the political party,
demographic and geographic composition of Orange County, Katz said.

Voters polled were asked if they would support Proposition 227, which would require that all public school instruction be conducted in English.
Furthermore, the measure “provides short-term placement, usually for not more than one year, in English-immersion programs for children not fluent in English and appropriates $50 million a year for 10 years to train English tutors. If the election were being held today, would you vote yes or no?”

The findings showed that 66% of Orange County voters would approve the measure, 23% would vote against it and 11% were undecided. A majority in both political parties favors the measure, with Republicans showing strong support with 73% and Democrats with 57%. There is a 4% of margin of error.

Katz added that voters may be balking at the price tag on the initiative.

“A $50-million project or ones of that magnitude don’t come all that palatable to Orange County voters,” Katz said. “This is a very fiscally conservative area.”

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Seal Beach resident Jana Long, who participated in the poll, said she would vote for the proposition primarily because she believes it would help students to efficiently learn English.

“If someone has trouble with English, they should be in a separate class,” said Long, 34, who has no children. “Otherwise, the class would not move very fast.”

On the contrary, Ann Cross Manley, a retired teacher who was also surveyed,
said she feels the initiative would harm California’s students.

“It’s going to worsen instead of better things if they pass it,”
said Manley, 71, of Stanton. “There are multiple ways of teaching reading and to limit it to one kind or another is disturbing to me.”

Orange County earned its reputation as the seat of anti-bilingual education when three local school districts were the first in California to waive state bilingual education requirements.

Since then, the bilingual education debate has deeply divided communities across the state.

Some Latino and Asian American activists have endorsed the measure, arguing that this is not a racial issue, rather an attempt to overhaul a failing system. But critics and protesters against the proposition contend that excluding native-language instruction will severely leave immigrant students at a disadvantage.

“It is certainly a complex issue and many voters don’t fully understand how it will impact them and their children,” said Mai Cong, president and chief executive of the Vietnamese Community of Orange County, a social service and educational group. “It has stirred quite a dilemma and much conflict within ourselves.”

English Only Winning

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Proposition 227 has the support of two-in three county voters.

* Proposition 227, the “English for the Children” initiative,
requires that all public school instruction be conducted in English. It provides short-term placement, usually for not more than one year, in English-immersion programs for children not fluent in English, and appropriates $50 million a year for 10 years to train English tutors. If the election were being held today, would you vote yes or no on proposition 227?

All voters

Yes: 66%

No: 23%

Don’t know:11%

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Yes: 57%

No: 31%

Don’t know: 12%

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Yes: 73%

No: 16%

Don’t know: 11%

Source: Times Orange County Poll

How the Poll Was Conducted

The Times Orange County Poll was conducted by Baldassare Associates.
The random telephone survey of 600 registered voters in Orange County was conducted May 14-17. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 4%. That means the results are within four percentage points of what they would be if all Orange County registered voters were interviewed. For likely voters, the margin of error is plus or minus 6%.

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