Many Texans on edge over bilingual proposition

As California voters head to the polls today to decide the fate of bilingual education in their state, educators and lawmakers in Texas say they will watch – in trepidation – as the results trickle in.

“I’m scared. I’m really scared,” said state Sen. Gregory Luna, D- San Antonio. “I know that things that happened in California have a way of reverberating to the East, and it’s quite exacerbating. All we can do is watch.”

Residents in California will vote on Proposition 227, an initiative that would virtually abolish programs in bilingual education and English as a second language. They would be replaced by a one-year intensive English immersion class for limited-English speakers.

The fear among Texas educators and lawmakers is that, if the measure passes, a push for similar legislation here might not be far behind.

A recent poll by the Houston Chronicle found a majority of Texans oppose a multi-year approach to teaching English to students that speak another language.

The poll, released last week, found 25 percent of 801 Texans thought students should receive no bilingual education before being placed in English-only classes. Another 27 percent believed students should get no more than one year of bilingual instruction.

Texans were split down the middle on the fate of long-term bilingual education, with 44 percent in favor of retaining existing programs and 48 percent in favor of abolishing them.

Cynthia Cano, staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said it’s impossible to tell if California’s vote will affect Texas.

If Proposition 227 passes, it will give ammunition to opponents of bilingual education programs in Texas, she said.

“It could encourage them,” Cano said, to legally challenge Texas’ bilingual education programs.

Still others believe the outcome of the California vote will not influence Texas at all.

“People in Texas know that bilingual education is a good way to learn English,” said Maria Cuca Robledo Montecel, executive director of the Intercultural Development Research Association, a nonprofit education research group based in San Antonio. “We have had success stories that tell us this is about providing high quality, well-funded accountable programming.”

Whatever the outcome of today’s vote, an inevitable comparison will be made between Texas and California, said Joe Bernal, adjunct professor in the bilingual/bicultural education program at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

That comparison won’t be a danger unless the measure passes in California, he added.

“If it does pass, it’s going to leave one thought in most people’s minds – if California will have one year to do this, then why don’t we?”

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