DALLAS — Gov. George W. Bush, straying from his party’s platform, told a Hispanic organization Wednesday that bilingual education should continue in Texas if statewide tests show it works.
In a speech to the League of United Latin American Citizens’ national convention, Bush said all he cares about is results.
“There is great debate about bilingualism,” Bush said. “Remember, the goal is to teach children how to read and write and add and subtract in English. And here is my position loud and clear. We are going to measure it, and if the bilingual program serves to teach our children English, then we ought to say thank you very much and leave it in place.
“And if the bilingual program does not achieve state objectives, we must say change the program, eliminate the program because what we want is for every single child to get the gateway to freedom and that is called English,” he concluded.
Bush did not specify what measure would be used to gauge the success of bilingual programs. Later, his staff said he is interested in looking at results from bilingual education students who currently take the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, as well as a new test to be implemented in 2000. The new test, under development by the Texas Education Agency, will test English reading proficiency for kids in bilingual programs, including those who now take the TAAS in Spanish.
Bush, eager to become the first major Texas Republican to carry the Hispanic vote, drew standing ovations before and after his speech despite voicing support for a test program of school vouchers, a concept opposed by LULAC as detrimental to public education.
Heavily favored to win re-election, Bush is also eyeing a White House bid in 2000, though he has not yet said if he will run. He was followed at Wednesday’s convention by another presidential prospect, U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich has said he supports making English the nation’s official language, but he did not directly address the language issue Wednesday. The Georgia Republican drew his loudest applause when he said the U.S. shares blame for the prevalence of illegal drugs with the countries where drugs are cultivated.
“There’s no point in talking about bashing Mexico on drugs or bashing Colombia … (or) Bolivia on drugs,” he said. “The primary problem with drugs in the world today is the American market buying them.”
Before the speeches, Belen Robles, national LULAC president, introduced Bush at a press conference as “a great man from a great state.” After his speech, she commended him for his efforts on education and improving relations with Mexico.
As he left the podium, Bush was swarmed by LULAC members wanting to shake his hand and have a photo made with him.
“I think he is great,” said Maria D’Amezuca of Chicago as she worked her way out of the swarm. “I will vote for him if he runs for president.”
Bush also drew enthusiastic applause when he called for increased enforcement of the U.S. border, but not with the use of the military.
“Borders are meant to be patrolled by Border Patrol agents, not United States military troops,” he said. “The United States military is trained to fight the enemy, and Mexico is not our enemy.”
Bush’s position on bilingual education puts him out of line with his party’s platform, which says the program has already proven to be a loser.
“The party believes the majority of bilingual education programs in Texas have not proven to be successful and should be replaced with the immersion method or a combination of the existing English as a second language and immersion methods,” the platform says.
Bush acknowledged the split between him and his party on bilingual education and the adoption of English as the state’s and nation’s official language.
Bush drew loud applause when he told LULAC members, “In this state we understand that English is the gateway to freedom, so what I’ve promoted is not English only but English plus.”
Bush wants all students to be proficient in English and Spanish.
“I believe English-only sends the wrong message,” he said prior to the speech. “English-only says ‘us’, not ‘you.’ “
Of the split between him and his party on the language issues, Bush said, “One of the things that happens when you lead is you are at odds with all kinds of people.”
The Texas Democratic Party platform, approved last weekend in San Antonio, supports bilingual education “to facilitate the transition of students to English-language instruction.” LULAC’s legislative agenda backs bilingual education and an increase in programs “for Latino youth to equalize the educational playing field and help ensure scholastic success.”
“LULAC supports bilingual education to ensure English proficiency while encouraging students to retain proficiency in their native language,” the legislative program says.
A Texas Poll conducted June 1-12 showed that 72 percent of adult Texans believe it is important to continue bilingual programs. There was division, though, on how best to move non-English speakers toward proficiency. Garry Mauro, Bush’s Democratic challenger, said his belief in bilingual education was passed down from a grandfather who hit a public-school dead end in the third grade because of language barriers.
This article includes material from The Associated Press.