Bid to bar bilingual teaching keeps big lead

A June primary ballot measure that would largely eliminate bilingual education in California’s public schools continues to receive overwhelming support among likely voters, according to a new Field Poll released Thursday.

Overall, Thursday’s poll found 70 percent of likely voters surveyed favoring Proposition 227, with 20 percent opposed and 10 percent undecided.

By comparison, 66 percent of those surveyed last month said they would vote yes on the measure, 27 percent said they would vote no, and 7 percent were undecided.

By party, Democrats in the current survey favored the initiative by a margin of 2-1, while Republicans supported it by better than a ratio of 8-1, the poll found.

In a shift from findings in the Field Poll’s February survey, endorsement of Proposition 227 among likely Latino voters climbed back to majority support — 61 percent — in the current poll. Thirty four percent of Latinos said they would vote no, and 5 percent are undecided.

Last month, the poll found likely Latino voter sentiment more sharply divided, with 46 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed. The 46 percent represented a 20-point drop in Latino support from a November survey of registered voters.

Latinos, Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said, “have been wallowing around.”

“It’s still majority support among Latinos, but opinion is certainly more divided than in other population subgroups,” DiCamillo said. “The Latinos are least supportive.”

In the current survey, 75 percent of Asian Americans, 71 percent of non-Latino whites and 63 percent of African Americans said they would vote yes on the measure.

Proponents of the measure, sponsored by Silicon Valley software entrepreneur Ron Unz, praised the latest voter survey findings.

“This confirms what we’ve been saying all along — that we have broad support among all groups,” said Sheri Annis, spokeswoman for the Unz campaign.

“The ethnic breakdown shows that people of every ethnicity and color want the same thing for their children: a strong knowledge of the English language so that they can succeed in school and business in California.”

But Holli Thier, spokeswoman for the No on Proposition 227 campaign, said the poll doesn’t reflect voter concerns about local control.

“School districts need flexibility to teach children English, and that Proposition 227, with its $50 million-a-year spending and one-year sink or swim plan, is not going to teach California’s schoolchildren English,” Thier said.

Thier was referring to two of the Unz measure’s principal provisions. It would establish a statewide system of English-immersion instruction for a one-year period for the roughly 1.4 million California students identified as limited-English proficient. It also would mandate $50 million a year for 10 years for adult English literacy instruction.

Citing a recent court decision, the California Board of Education ruled last week that local school districts no longer need state approval to eliminate bilingual education instruction in the teaching of limited-English-proficient students.

State Attorney General Dan Lungren, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor, in turn said earlier this week that the recent court decision may have made the Unz measure moot.

The statewide survey of 727 likely voters was conducted March 5-15 and had a sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percent.

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