Calif. millionaire says he would help in bilingual ed ballot drive

BOSTON (AP) – The California millionaire who led the drive to end bilingual education in that state said he’d be glad to help put a question on the ballot doing the same in Massachusetts.

Ron Unz, who contributed $750,000 of his own money to get a similar question passed in California, said his help in Massachusetts could include contributing money.

“I’ve made no specific commitment, but it’s certainly possible I might help out with something like that. And I certainly would try to find other people who would get involved in such an effort,” he said Thursday.

Unz also said, however, “I do think it’s most appropriate if the bulk of the financing comes from the people within the state. It would be much preferable if that happened.”

The California campaign cost a total of $1.2 million.

Unz appeared Tuesday with Sen. Guy Glodis, D-Worcester, at a news conference where Glodis proposed to replace the state’s transitional bilingual education program with a new program similar to the California “immersion” program passed in 1998.

Efforts to get rid of bilingual education have foundered in the Massachusetts Legislature in past years.

Glodis said he’s prefer to go through the legislature but would not rule out a ballot question if the legislative process failed.

“The obvious solution would be to put it on the ballot where polls have shown overwhelming support,” he said, citing poll results from other states.

Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford, a defender of bilingual education, said, “What I can tell you is, I believe Massachusetts is not California and I think the people and the voters of Massachusetts will see what this proposal is. It’s nothing more than trying to attack and eliminate good sound educational policy in Massachusetts.”

Under transitional bilingual education, the state’s current system, students who don’t speak English are put in classes where they learn English, but they also learn subjects in their native language. The program lasts three years, but can be extended.

The idea is that students will be able to move smoothly into regular classes.

Critics like Glodis say the students stay in the program too long – and don’t improve enough. But supporters say the program has suffered from a lack of resources and attention. They also say the gradual transition is necessary so students won’t fall behind in other subjects while they learn English.

The Glodis proposal would replace the current program with a one-year program that included intensive English language study.

More than 44,000 students are currently enrolled in bilingual education, Glodis’ office estimates.

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