Members of the Los Angeles teachers union have narrowly voted to uphold the group’s support of bilingual education.
In balloting counted Monday, 52.2% of the teachers who voted opposed a referendum that would have thrown the support of United Teachers-Los Angeles to the statewide initiative by businessman Ron Unz, which would end bilingual education. The votes were cast last week.
UTLA president Day Higuchi said he was pleased that the union’s policy would not change after being whipsawed in four previous referendums going back to the late 1980s.
But he said it is unfortunate that the union leadership has been shackled by prior votes on bilingual education.
“Once the policy has been set by membership, the delegates can’t not follow it,” Higuchi said. “It is difficult to be flexible.”
Polling has shown that teachers are far more concerned about class size and salaries than they are about bilingual education, Higuchi said.
What he described as the wedge issue of bilingual education keeps coming up for union votes because of archaic rules requiring only 500 signatures among the roughly 32,000 union members to qualify a referendum, Higuchi said.
This first happened in an advisory referendum about a decade ago, in which teachers voted to oppose bilingual education, Higuchi said. A later mail-in ballot briefly established a policy in opposition to bilingual education, but was overturned only months later in a second mail-in ballot, Higuchi said.
Most recently, the teachers voted down a measure that would have made it union policy to oppose special training for teachers of students who do not speak English as their primary language.
Higuchi said he supports bilingual education, but believes it has been guided for too long by beliefs, rather than research.