Rush to beat vote on 227 may be too little, too late

Legislative version stresses local control over bilingual education

With Proposition 227 looming on the June horizon, California’s elected officials are scurrying to do something — anything — to reform bilingual education in the state’s public schools.

Prop. 227 opponents and liberal lawmakers hope these eleventh-hour efforts will undermine voter support for the initiative by giving California parents some new local control. But with polls predicting a big victory on June 2 for the initiative sponsored by Silicon Valley multimillionaire Ron Unz,
it may be too little, too late.

Two weeks ago, the state Board of Education rescinded outdated bilingual education regulations and passed new guidelines that let school districts design programs for English learners.

After years of inaction, Assembly members passed a compromise bill Monday that would essentially turn the new guidelines into law by letting school districts decide how to teach 1.4 million non-English speaking students.
A version of that bill passed the Senate nearly a year ago and then stalled in the Assembly.

“Personally I think the legislators are giving a voters a crisp choice between local discretion and centralized reform,” said Bruce Fuller, co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education. “I think the liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans ouldn’t work out a model. The Unz initiative has pushed them to come together over a reasonable compromise.”

The initiative would replace bilingual education programs that now serve about 400,000 English learners in the public schools, with a one-year sheltered English immersion program mandated by the state. It would largely eliminate local decision-making.

The bill introduced by Sen. Deirdre Alpert, D-Coronado, would allow districts to decide which programs work best while requiring that they show results within a few years.

“I think it’s a recognition that Proposition 227 is not necessary,”
said Holli Thier, spokeswoman for the No on Prop. 227 campaign about the recent legislative actions. “All of the decisions we have seen in the last month have said local districts need to decide what to do.”

But initiative backers insist the lawmakers’ actions won’t shake support for Prop. 227.

“I think in some ways what’s going on in the state Legislature is a textbook case of the sort of behavior that discredits legislators in the minds of most ordinary voters,” Unz said. “The people who tried to defeat it last year are trying to pass it six weeks before the election and it makes them look very foolish.”

Last year, Democrats, including members of the Latino Caucus, didn’t like Alpert’s bill because it threatens to undermine bilingual education and primary language instruction. But with polls showing overwhelming support for Prop. 227, Democrats shifted their stand, apparently to salvage the option of bilingual education in California.

“We could have had all of this settled a year ago,” said Assemblywoman Lynne Leach, R-Walnut Creek. “All of sudden, they (Democrats) started getting worried that they were going to lose something here, that the Unz initiative had a great deal of popularity and they had to do something.”

Leach, who supports Prop. 227, joined several Republicans in voting for Alpert’s Senate Bill 6 because it provides a clear timeline for results and gives districts lots of leeway. It cleared the Assembly by a vote of 50-27.

Gov. Wilson has not said whether he will support Alpert’s bill when it emerges from the Senate.

“It’s regrettable that we’re stuck in the position we are today,”
said Sean Walsh, Wilson’s deputy chief of staff. “The governor asked the Democrats last year to send him a bill. Once again the public will have to do what the legislators failed to do.”

Some Republicans, including Leach, hope Wilson will sign the legislation because they say it is a good compromise. But Gloria Matta Tuchman, a Republican co-sponsor of the initiative, wants Wilson to veto the bill because it lets districts implement bilingual programs.

Ironically, Tuchman, a candidate for state schools superintendent, backed an early version of the Alpert bill.

“I was one of the authors of that bill,” said Tuchman, a first-grade teacher in Orange County. “But I do not support that bill. It reinstates mandated bilingual education and that’s exactly what we do not need.”

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Andrea Lampros covers education and Prop. 227. You can reach her at 925-943-8155 or P.O. Box 5088, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.

=========== add the following as a link called “Debate Scheduled”
to the bottom of the first article==========

YOU’RE INVITED

Ron Unz, the author of Proposition 227, will face off with a spokeswoman for the opposition next week at a town hall meeting on bilingual education.

The Times and the League of Women Voters, sponsors of the event, invite you to participate.

California’s public schools have 1.4 million students who are learning English as a second language. Prop. 227 would dismantle bilingual programs that use primary language instruction in favor of a one-year English immersion model taught “overwhelmingly” in English. Roughly 400,000 students are enrolled in bilingual programs in California.

The Times is presenting a series of stories that look at the academics,
politics, finances, history and personalities at the heart of this debate.

You can read our stories at www.hotcoco.com. Use the Quickword “bilingual.”

Here are the details on the town hall meeting:

What: “Prop. 227: A Town Hall Meeting on Bilingual Education”
with Unz and opposition spokeswoman Holli Thier. Daniel Borenstein, Times political editor, and Thomas Scovel, San Francisco State psycholinguistics professor, will co-host the event.

Where: Pleasant Hill Education Center, 3100 Oak Park Blvd., Pleasant Hill

When: April 29

How to see it: Arrive at 7:30 p.m. to be part of our audience or tune in to Contra Costa Television for the live broadcast at 8 p.m. (Channels 19 in San Pablo, Walnut Creek, Brentwood, Martinez, Pleasant Hill, Lafayette,
Orinda and parts of Danville; 18 in Concord and Richmond; and 27 in Pittsburg,
Antioch, Pinole and Rodeo.)

SENATE BILL 6

.Lets school districts choose how to educate the 1.4 million English learners in the public schools. The programs must be based on “sound theory” and ensure that students learn grade-level material while they learn English. .Requires school districts to provide daily English lessons.
.If English learners are not achieving test scores that are comparable with districtwide averages after two years, the district must revise its program.
.If a student is not making academic progress or learning English after three years, teachers and school officials must meet with parents to discuss instructional options.

PROP. 227

.Implements a sheltered English immersion program for all of California’s English learners, not normally intended to exceed one year; after one year,
the students would likely be placed in mainstream classes. .Requires students be taught “overwhelmingly” in English. .Allows parents to seek waivers to pull children out of immersion classes, if the student has special needs, knows English already or is older than 10. .Allocates $50 million a year for 10 years from the state general fund to provide free or subsidized English education classes to parents or other adults who pledge to provide tutoring to children with limited English skills.



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