The push to dismantle the state’s bilingual education laws rolled ahead yesterday, as supporters of the ballot measure announced they amassed 100,000 signatures in just four weeks.
California millionaire Ron Unz, who has bankrolled similar initiatives in California, Arizona and Colorado, said he expects the Secretary of State’s office to certify the necessary 57,000 signatures early next year.
“We’re very much on our way and very quickly,” said Unz, the Harvard University-educated high-tech entrepreneur who believes too many non-English speaking children are trapped in failed bilingual programs. “What’s encouraging is how enthusiastic people have been about signing (the petitions).”
The proposal would require children who are not fluent in English to be placed in intensive language classes to teach them English within a year.
The state’s current bilingual program provides for three years of language instruction.
The signatures represent a major hurdle in the group’s push to get the issue on the Massachusetts ballot.
Once the required number of signatures is certified, the petition goes to the Legislature. If it is not adopted by April 30, the group has until July 3 to collect another 9,517 signatures to get the issue on the ballot.
Opponents of the measure insist they will raise the money to battle the deep-pocketed Unz and English For the Children of Massachusetts, the local organization he is funding in the ballot fight.
“The fight is not over, not at all,” said Roger Rice, a Somerville-based consultant on immigrant education issues. “The signatures mean nothing to us. This campaign has just begun. Once the facts are out, this will melt away.”