Petitions on 2 initiatives submitted for '98 ballot

ELECTIONS: One would mandate English in classrooms. The other would restrict unions' ability to make political donations.

Organizers of two state initiatives _ to require teachers to use English in the classroom and to limit union contributions to political campaigns _ submitted petitions with more than 700,000 signatures Thursday to get the propositions on the June 1998 ballot.

The English for the Children Initiative, led by Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz and Santa Ana teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, would limit almost all instruction in public schools to English.

Backers say the initiative will end failed bilingual programs and better prepare California students for jobs. Critics say the initiative would stunt some students’ academic development by forcing them to learn in a foreign language.

The Campaign Reform Initiative would require labor unions to receive approval from members for money they spend on political campaigns and entitle members to refunds of their dues if they oppose a union-backed initiative.

The campaign is organized by Orange County education activists Frank Ury, James Righeimer and Mark Bucher, who have worked with anti-union, back-to-basics campaigns.

The key target of the reform would be the California Teachers Association, which has been the largest single donor to campaigns for the state Legislature and local school-board races.

“They have the same tax-exempt status as a church, but they can spend money on politics any way they want,” said Ury, a former Saddleback Valley Unified School Board member, as his group handed petitions with about 70,000 signatures to the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana.

Measures need 433,269 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

Gov. Pete Wilson also staged a press conference in Sacramento on Thursday backing the campaign reform initiative.

The English for the Children initiative spent $ 477,000 and the Campaign Reform Initiative spent $ 330,000 through September, according to the most recent campaign-finance reports. Most of the money went to fees paid to signature gatherers.

Seven ballot initiatives have qualified for the June ballot and petitions for 24 others are being circulated, according to the California secretary of state.

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