Clinton argues against cutting bilingual education

PORTOLA VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — Acknowledging that bilingual education can be "intellectual purgatory" for some schoolchildren, President Clinton nonetheless argued forcefully against a California initiative to dismantle such programs.

Clinton, in his first public comments on the initiative, called it "the wrong answer." But, he said he understood some parents’ concerns that their children are allowed to languish in bilingual programs for so long that they become a crutch and a hindrance to learning English.

"The system we have is not working well for all children," Clinton told Democratic patrons at a $25,000-per-couple fund raiser late Friday night.

"We need to do right by these kids and doing right means giving them what they need, but not keeping them trapped in some sort of intellectual purgatory where they’ll get bored and drop out of school and won’t go forward."

Californians vote June 2 on Proposition 227, a ballot measure that would replace a multiplicity of bilingual education programs in the state — where schools officially recognize 55 different languages — with a one-year course of instruction taught mostly in English.

Clinton said his administration was developing instead a national model that would ensure no child needed to be in bilingual programs for more than three years.

While aides said in advance of Clinton’s weekend trip that he would take the occasion of being in California to speak out against Proposition 227, the president’s extensive and detailed arguments during a fund-raising speech surprised some top advisers.

Proposition 227, authored by Silicon Valley millionaire and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Ron Unz, would require children with limited English-speaking ability to be taught "overwhelmingly" in English for a year before being moved into regular classrooms. Supporters say the current system takes too long and produces children who never become proficient in English.

Statewide polls show about 60 percent of voters support proposition 227, including about half the Hispanic voters polled.

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