State PTA opposes English initiative

Measure bans native language instruction

While acknowledging the state’s bilingual education programs need reform, the California Parent-Teacher Asso ciation voted Thursday to oppose the English for the Children initiative that would dismantle them if approved by voters in the June primary election.

The state’s largest education advocacy group became the lat est to join a long list of education groups, civil rights organizations and elected officials who have publicly opposed the measure.

The initiative, written by Palo Alto millionaire and entrepreneur Ron Unz, would essentially prohibit native language instruction in public schools.

The PTA said the initiative would force thousands of children with limited or no English fluency into English-only classes, remove parental choice and curb local control.

“Right now it looks like we have everyone on the front line of education opposing this,” said Kelly Hayes-Raitt, spokeswoman of the No on Unz group. “We’re proud to have the California PTA join our efforts to oppose the initiative.”

The Unz camp, however, said that while the opposition includes many organizations, it’s the vote of individuals that will decide the issue at the polls.

“It doesn’t surprise me that (the PTA) would vote against the initiative,” said English for the Children spokeswoman Sheri Annis. “It’s consistent with every organized group. The leaders oppose it, but the mainstream members support it. I see this occurring throughout California.”

The Unz camp, however, has boasted the support of several well-known individuals, including Jaime Escalante, the teacher profiled in the 1988 movie “Stand and Deliver.”

Even though the list of opponents is lengthy –including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, teach ers unions, several state Senate and Assembly members and school districts –the No on Unz group acknowledged it may be fighting an expensive battle.

The English for the Children campaign has spent more than $600,000 so far to pass the initiative. A significant portion of that came from Unz.

“This seems to be the Ron Unz pay-as-you-go initiative,” Hayes-Raitt said. “Frankly, I don’t think we’ll match Unz dollar for dollar, but we’ll be able to raise enough money to wage an effective campaign.”

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