PHOENIX – Arizona voters are leaning strongly toward following the lead of California and banning bilingual instruction, according to a new poll.

The statewide survey conducted within the last week shows 71 percent of those asked said they likely would vote for Proposition 203. Only 20 percent were opposed, with 9 percent undecided.

State Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, D-Phoenix, a leading opponent of the ballot measure, called the results “disturbing.”

“Clearly, a whole lot of work has to be done,” he said. “How we’re going to do it, that I don’t know.”

Lopez said part of the problem has been financial.

The initiative campaign has been financed almost exclusively by English for the Children-California, an organization set up by Ron Unz in his successful bid to outlaw bilingual instruction in that state two years ago. The most recent campaign finance reports, which cover the period through Aug. 23, show expenses of about $170,000.

By contrast, the two groups that have formed in opposition have raised only $1,550.

“Quite frankly, we’re not going to have the resources to do the kind of media campaign we would like to have,” Lopez said. He said that will mean being more dependent on free media, but he added that hasn’t worked out as he’d hoped.

Unz, however, said yesterday that the poll results cannot be explained away by the difference in spending. He said virtually all of the expenses incurred so far were to gather the signatures to put the measure on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The statewide survey of 400 registered voters was conducted for KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS affiliate, and has a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

Proposition 203 would outlaw traditional bilingual programs where students with limited English skills are taught their regular subjects in their native language at the same time they learn English. These programs can take years to get youngsters into regular classrooms.

Instead, students would be placed into one-year English-immersion programs.

Unz cites a rise in standardized test scores in California since bilingual education was outlawed there by voters in 1998. He points to figures showing a large increase among students who were classified as having limited English proficiency, especially in school districts that had traditional bilingual programs.

But researchers including Stephen Kashen of the University of Southern California say controlled studies show that students in traditional bilingual-education programs do far better academically than those placed in English-immersion programs.

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