SACRAMENTO—Legislation that would have revived the state’s bilingual education program was vetoed Friday by Gov. George Deukmejian, despite a compromise designed to give school districts and parents greater say in the instruction of non-English-speaking students.
Although the bill by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) had widespread support among educators, Deukmejian vetoed the measure at the request of Assembly Republicans who favor giving school districts wide latitude in teaching students who are not fluent in English.
“In the absence of an agreement in the Legislature on more flexible guidelines for the program, I believe it is better to allow each school district to fashion its own,” the Republican governor said in his veto message.
Deukmejian’s veto for the second year in a row of legislation extending the bilingual program disappointed Brown and school officials, who accused the governor and Assembly Republicans of seeking to destroy bilingual education.
“The Assembly Republicans clearly have no interest in the children,” said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, past president of the California Assn. for Bilingual Education. “Their whole agenda is to dismantle the program and deny services to children who want to learn English and participate in our American society.”
The veto of the bilingual education measure came as Deukmejian acted on more than 80 bills sent to him by the Legislature before its summer recess. Among the bills he signed were a measure prohibiting local governments from imposing blanket bans on the sale of alcohol and gasoline at the same stores and a bill prohibiting most motorists from carrying dogs in the back of open trucks.
Supporters of the bilingual education bill, including several Republican senators, expressed concern that Deukmejian’s veto of the bill will lead to confusion among many school officials this fall.
California’s bilingual education law, which expired June 30, required schools to provide instruction in the students’ native language whenever there were 10 or more students in a grade with a common primary language other than English. The goal of the program was to teach the students English while preventing them from falling behind in other subjects. Last year, about 525,000 pupils were enrolled in bilingual education programs around the state.
For the majority of young students, three years of bilingual instruction is sufficient to make them fluent enough in English to make the switch to a regular classroom, educators say.
Now, in the absence of a state law governing bilingual education, administrators will be bound only by less stringent federal law and court rulings that require schools to give special assistance to students who are not fluent in English.
As Deukmejian noted in his veto message, state funds will still be available for districts to operate bilingual education programs as they choose. Some districts, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, have said they will continue operating their program as they have in the past.
With his veto, the governor also refused to extend a group of other educational programs that were included in Brown’s bill. Those programs were designed to aid children who are physically or mentally handicapped, children with reading disabilities, especially gifted or talented pupils, those from poor families and native Americans. The gifted and talented education program and the program for handicapped pupils will expire next year. The others ended June 30.
Brown called Deukmejian’s veto “a slap in the faces of all those parents who want a better future for their children than they had.”
“It is time for the parents of those children, as well as for other Californians who care about the quality and equality of education in our state, to reassess this governor’s claims to be a friend of education,” the Speaker said.
Supporters and opponents of Brown’s bill said it may be possible to work out a compromise to revive the state’s bilingual program when the Legislature returns Aug. 17 for four weeks.
However, backers of Brown’s measure said they had already made major concessions in an attempt to satisfy Assembly Republicans. Further modifications may not be possible without gutting the program, they said.
In addition, both sides accused each other of failing to negotiate in good faith when Brown’s bill passed the Legislature, presenting another potential obstacle to an agreement.
The compromise incorporated into Brown’s bill would have given school districts far greater flexibility by allowing up to 70,000 students each year to be placed in experimental programs. These could include such Republican favorites as “English immersion,” in which students are taught primarily in English.
The measure also would have given parents greater say in what kind of programs their children were enrolled in. School districts would have been required to notify parents what programs were available and obtain their permission within 30 days of enrollment.
In addition, the bill would have relaxed the requirement that teachers learn a second language and would have permitted them to teach bilingual classes with the help of aides who were fluent in the students’ language.
“I think the compromise that was negotiated was a great step in the right direction,” said Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), who urged the governor to sign the bill. “It was certainly a big improvement.”
But Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier), who led Assembly Republicans in seeking the governor’s veto, insists on further changes in the program, including the elimination of the requirement that special language instruction be provided any time there are 10 students who share the same non-English language in one grade.
In vetoing the bill, Deukmejian sided with the Republican minority in the Assembly, which has given him strong support on important fiscal issues. Because of their backing, the majority Democrats have never been able to override a Deukmejian veto. When Brown’s bill came up for a final vote in the Assembly, only one Republican supported it and 31 voted against it.
Spiegel-Coleman, who works for the Los Angeles County Department of Education, said she was distressed that Deukmejian vetoed Brown’s bill because of pressure from legislators.
“We regret that the governor did not make a decision of conscience but made a political decision when it came to the lives of our kids,” she said.
Deukmejian stressed in his veto message that he supports bilingual education but said local programs are not dependent on the enactment of a new state law.
“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,” he said. “In the absence of any state legislation mandating specific program requirements, school districts enjoy total flexibility over the structure of their programs.”
In other actions, Deukmejian:
* Signed legislation by Assemblyman Gary Condit (D-Ceres) that will prohibit cities and counties from banning the sale of alcoholic beverages and gasoline from the same stores. The measure wipes out more than 30 local ordinances adopted after Aug. 1, 1985.
Under the measure, which was supported by the politically powerful convenience store and gas station industries, cities will retain the authority to prohibit individual stores, on a case-by-case basis, from selling both products.
Signed a bill by Assemblyman Jack O’Connell (D-Carpinteria) that will prohibit most motorists from carrying animals in an open truck bed. There are a number of exceptions in the bill, including drivers who are employed by a farm and are driving on a rural road or drivers who are traveling to or from a livestock auction.
* Vetoed a bill by Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) that would have prohibited the importation from other states or nations any food that contains the residue of pesticides that are banned in California. Deukmejian said in his veto message that he was concerned that the bill would have been “perceived by our foreign partners as a trade barrier.” Deukmejian also said federal law “provides adequate protections to discover impurities in imported food.”
* Signed a bill by Assemblyman William P. Duplissea (R-San Mateo) that will allow judges to order drunk-driving offenders between the ages of 18 and 21 to visit the county morgue, a hospital or alcoholism treatment center as part of their sentence. The bill is designed to make “significant and lasting” impressions on young drivers by requiring them to view the results of accidents caused by drunk drivers.
* Signed a measure by Sen. William A. Craven (R-Oceanside) that increases legislators’ living allowances by $1,000 a year and raises the pay of many of Deukmejian’s top appointees. The bill raises the legislators’ expense allowance from $82 to $87 a day by tying the payment to the rate paid by the federal government to its employees who travel to Sacramento.