Rethinking bilingual initiative

Lungren says he may oppose measure

SACRAMENTO — Attorney General Dan Lungren said yesterday he may oppose an initiative ending most public school bilingual education programs if a court ruling last month lets local school districts decide what is best for students.

The likely Republican nominee for governor said a ruling issued by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ron Robie appears to free local districts from the state requirement to provide bilingual education.

“If this decision is upheld, it appears to take care of the problem that I had with a mandate for bilingual education, and allows local school districts to make the determination,” said Lungren.

Lungren said he believes that “you could get 85 percent of the people of California to say that bilingual education as practiced in California has by and large been a failure. To have the mandate continued makes no sense.”

An initiative sponsored by businessman Ron Unz would end most bilingual education programs in which students with limited English are taught mainly in their native language for up to seven years.

The Unz initiative, Proposition 227, would replace bilingual education with a new state requirement for sheltered English immersion lasting about a year. It is scheduled to go before the voters June 2.

Robie issued his ruling in a lawsuit filed to prevent an Orange County school district from dropping its bilingual education program under a waiver issued by the state Board of Education.

The judge said that the board had no authority to issue a waiver because the state law authorizing bilingual education programs expired in 1986. For more than a decade, the state program had continued under policy advisories issued by the Board of Education.

Last week, the current state Board of Education, appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson, cited Judge Robie’s ruling when it voted unanimously to repeal the state policy guidelines on bilingual education — which was a move toward local district control on the issue.

Unz said he disagrees with Lungren because the state Department of Education, under the direction of state schools chief Delaine Eastin, apparently intends to continue enforcing the state mandate for bilingual education.

Furthermore, said Unz, “I think just about all the large school districts in California have said they will not change their policy on bilingual education, despite the fact that the board has now given them the green light to do so.”

Michael Hersher, chief counsel for Eastin’s Department of Education, said there is a disagreement about whether Robie’s decision, which is expected to be clarified with a final judgment, means that the state or local districts decide when bilingual education is necessary.

“Since the state has to determine when funding is appropriate, the state would have to monitor compliance when bilingual education is necessary and potentially second-guess a local district,” said Hersher.

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