Deukmejian vetoes bill renewing state control of bilingual education

SACRAMENTO, CA—Gov. George Deukmejian vetoed legislation Friday renewing the state’s power to regulate bilingual-education programs in local school districts.

State control over bilingual curricula expired June 30 because of the governor’s veto of a similar bill in September.

The veto left school boards and administrators free to choose methods for teaching millions of non-English-speaking, mostly immigrant children. However, the veto does not affect state and federal funding to school districts for teaching children who are not fluent in English.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig claimed the veto will leave school districts “in limbo,” without direction in dealing with 600,000 foreign-language-speaking students.

Nevertheless, a spokeswoman for the Santa Ana Unified School District, which administers the second-largest bilingual program in California, said her district will continue looking to the state Department of Education for non-binding guidelines on instruction for its 18,000 limited-English-speaking students.

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, D-San Francisco, the author of both bills, called Deukmejian’s latest veto “a slap in the faces of all those parents who want a better future for their children than they had.”

Deukmejian’s veto also ended state control over four other school programs aimed at aiding Indian and economically deprived children.

Regulatory powers over two other programs contained in the Brown bill, dealing with academically gifted and handicapped students, will expire June 30 unless a renewal bill is passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

But the veto does not affect at least $ 106 million in funding for bilingual education in the 1987-88 budget.

Because of a 1975 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, those funds still will go to local school districts to ensure that non-English-speaking students enjoy equal educational opportunities.

While stressing that he supports the concept of bilingual education, the governor in his veto message said he disagrees with restrictions placed on schools by the bill.

“The issue is not whether bilingual language services will be offered, but rather how the program that is offered can be most effectively structured to meet the needs of language minority students,” Deukmejian said.

“I believe that local school districts should have the flexibility necessary to design those programs which best meet the requirements of an often wide and diverse population of limited-English speaking students.”

But Brown and Honig say the vetoed bill substantially increased school districts’ abilities to tailor their bilingual education programs. They said the bill represented a compromise that also met critics’ complaints that parents should have more control over whether their children are placed in bilingual programs.

But those concessions failed to satisfy conservative Republican members of the Assembly, led by Assemblyman Frank Hill of Whittier, who prevailed upon the governor to veto the Brown measure.

Hill has opposed the bilingual program, saying it increased student dependency on native languages.

Honig called Deukmejian’s veto “a political payoff to Assembly Republicans” for supporting the administration during a recent protracted fight with majority Democrats over the state budget and a proposed rebate to taxpayers.

Honig complained that the governor’s veto will deprive local districts of the benefits from reforms in the Brown bill and will force local school boards to waste time and resources trying to come up with their own bilingual programs.

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