Bilingual education opponents start filing

Organizers of a proposed initiative to roll back bilingual education in California filed the first batch Thursday of what they expect will be 720,000 voter signatures to qualify the measure for next June’s primary ballot.

At a Los Angeles news conference, Republican millionaire businessman Ron Unz joined parents opposed to bilingual education to announce completion of the campaign’s signature-gathering effort.

Petitions containing more than 200,000 signatures in support of the initiative were filed in Los Angeles County and more are expected to be filed in Sacramento and other jurisdictions by the end of next week.

Only 433,269 valid signatures are needed to qualify the measure for the ballot.

The initiative would eliminate bilingual education in California’s public schools as it is now practiced and replace it with a “sheltered English immersion” teaching method statewide, according to the measure’s wording.

A recent poll published by the Los Angeles Times suggested the Unz proposal would be a sure winner — getting 80 percent support from California voters overall and 84 percent from Latino voters.

“Seven months from today, our failed system of bilingual education will be just an unhappy memory, and all California schoolchildren will have the right to learn English in California schools,” Unz said Thursday. In an interview, Unz said bilingual education “may or may not work in theory” but “what I argue is that there is overwhelming evidence that it doesn’t work in practice,” given constraints on the system.

But Sacramento political consultant Richie Ross, who has signed on to lead the opposition campaign against the Unz measure, said it is a “drastic experiment” that will result in “unnecessary cruelty to kids.”

Drawing a comparison between a recently banned diet drug and the ballot measure, Ross said, “Is the Unz initiative the ‘educational fen-phen,’ and we’re going to wake up and find out we’ve given these kids cardiac arrest?”

Prominent support for the Unz measure has come from all three Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate seat now held by California Democrat Barbara Boxer and from the state Republican Party, whose delegates endorsed it at the party’s September convention.

Famed Sacramento mathematics teacher Jaime Escalante has agreed to serve as the campaign’s honorary chairman.

Lining up to oppose the measure is a coalition calling itself Citizens for an Educated America. Among the groups in the coalition are the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the California Association for Bilingual Education and the California Teachers Association.

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