Voters end bilingual education

Prop. 227 was headed for resounding victory in early returns despite opposition from educators, candidates and civil rights groups

California ended its 22-year commitment to bilingual education in the public schools Tuesday after a majority of voters gave a resounding “yes”
to Proposition 227.

“This initiative will help all of California’s school children to learn English effectively,” said Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley millionaire who spent more than $600,000 of his money on the ballot measure. “English language instruction will prepare them for a strong academic and economic future in our state.”

With more than a quarter of the precincts reporting, the initiative led by an overwhelming margin. The measure would replace bilingual classes with one year of intensive English instruction for 1.4 million public school children.

The ballot initiative was opposed by President Clinton, all four major gubernatorial candidates and a slew of educators, but drew strong support from the electorate. Recent polls indicated that more than 60 percent of the state’s voters would back the initiative.

“We’re going to continue the effort and the work to make sure that children learn English,” said opposition spokeswoman Holli Thier. “The coalition that was built to defeat Proposition 227 will do everything possible to continue to provide a quality education for the children of California.”

Some East Bay voters were confident the initiative would pass easily.

“I voted yes,” said Donna Arbuckle, a 59-year-old Walnut Creek resident who voted at her neighborhood United Methodist Church. “I voted that everyone should know English.”

Others hoped the initiative would lose.

Ming Hua, a 79-year-old Richmond resident who moved to the United States from China 10 years ago, voted at the Assembly of God on San Pablo Avenue in Richmond.

“For the children, it’s difficult to learn only in English,”
she said. “I would be afraid for my grandchild.”

Court challenges are expected to be announced by civil rights groups today. They are expected to seek an injunction to halt implementation of the law.

If Prop. 227 becomes law, it would have to be put in place across the state within 60 days. School administrators would need to work quickly to eliminate bilingual classes and set up a one-year program based in English before the start of the next school year.

Students would be put into mainstream classes the following year.

Under the current system — which has changed significantly during the past few months — school districts can decide whether to use English-based or bilingual programs to educate students with limited English skills.

Under Prop. 227, parents could request waivers to allow children older than 10 or who have special needs to take bilingual classes. At least 20 parents at any given school would have to sign the waivers to form a bilingual class.

The ballot measure would appropriate $50 million annually for 10 years from the state general fund for adult language programs, which would be available to people who pledge to help children learn English.

Prop. 227 would enable parents to hold teachers personally liable for implementing the initiative by allowing lawsuits against educators who “willfully and repeatedly” refuse to implement the English-immersion model.

Prop. 227 drew fire from educators for being a “one-size-fits-all”
approach to bilingual education. Opponents emphasized that most limited-English speakers are not in bilingual programs but rather in sheltered classes taught in English — programs that look a lot like the model proposed by Unz.

Opponents also argued that learning a new language takes longer than one year, regardless of the teaching method.

During the spring debate over Prop. 227, the state Board of Education adopted a policy allowing school districts broad freedom to choose programs that work locally. The board also scrapped state regulations that had required bilingual education programs.

The Legislature also took action on bilingual education by passing Senate Bill 6, a measure that essentially would have turned the nonbinding state board policy into law by giving districts more control. The legislation,
from Sen. Dede Alpert, D-San Diego, was billed as an alternative to Prop.

After both houses passed the bill with bipartisan support, Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the legislation and announced his support for Prop. 227.

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