Prop. 227 debate heats up

Bilingual education hits county nerves as elections near

Moorpark school trustee David Pollock felt so favorably about a bill that would let school districts decide how to teach limited-English students that he wrote the governor a letter asking him to sign it.

So Pollock was understandably disappointed when Pete Wilson vetoed the bill Monday, then declared his support for a June initiative that would virtually dismantle bilingual programs and require English-only instruction.

But Wilson’s action came as good news to Steve Frank. The Simi Valley conservative is heading a local campaign to support the initiative, Proposition 227.

Given the ongoing debate over bilingual education, Tuesday’s mixed reactions across Ventura County come as no surprise. The debate only grows more passionate as it gets closer to June 2, when California voters decide on Proposition 227.

The bill by state Sen. Dede Alpert, D-Coronado, was supposed to be an alternative to Proposition 227, which was written by Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz. The bill would have given local districts more flexibility in creating bilingual programs, whereas Proposition 227 would give districts less freedom.

Wilson said that bilingual education is a failure, and the bill doesn’t offer much hope for improvement.

Countywide, schools use different programs to teach limited-English students, from native language instruction to English immersion.

“I was pleased to see that (Wilson) is standing for excellence,” Frank said. He called Alpert’s bill “a transparent Band-Aid” that would solve nothing and only resurrect the state’s old bilingual education law, which expired in 1987.

But to many local teachers and school officials, Alpert’s bill was clearly the right choice, while Proposition 227 will be a disaster for the state’s 1.4 million students who are learning English.

“I think it’s too bad he vetoed it because it was a much better law than 227,” said Steve Blum, president of the Ventura Unified Education Association. “It allowed for local control; 227 does not. It wouldn’t have cost more money to implement; 227 will. It was a much better-written law because it allowed flexibility.”

Pollock said Alpert’s bill would have brought needed accountability to school districts. It would have required districts to test students every year. Bilingual programs would have been revamped if limited-English students were not performing well after two years.

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