PHOENIX – A California software entrepreneur who has spent more than $1 million to dismantle bilingual education in two states is now willing to bankroll the same effort in Colorado.
“I hope I won’t have to, but I’ll put in what I have to make sure we have a fair chance,” said Ron Unz, 39, who launched and funded successful efforts to end bilingual education in California and Arizona.
On Tuesday, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur, former theoretical physicist and failed Republican nominee for California governor was in Colorado to launch the effort for a ballot initiative that will ask Colorado voters to end bilingual education. The question could be on the November 2002 ballot.
In campaigns elsewhere, Unz helped pay for professional canvassers to gather sufficient signatures to place the initiative on the ballot.
But while there may be quiet support for his movement, public backing is hard to come by, he said.
“This is too controversial a subject for many people to take on publicly,” he said. “The reason I have to take this on is because politicians are too afraid of the vocal minority who support bilingual education.”
Bilingual education is the practice of teaching schoolchildren in their native languages while they gradually learn English.
Unz supports amending the Colorado Constitution to require that public school students attend no more than one year of class that is not spoken in English.
He is also behind a court challenge to bilingual education in New York and may launch a similar effort in Massachusetts.
As in other state campaigns, Unz has teamed with a local bilingual education opponent who will head the state campaign. In Colorado, that is former Denver school board member Rita Montero.
Unz often seeks Hispanics willing to take a high-profile role in the campaigns because the issue is a growing flashpoint among Hispanics.
The emotion surrounding the debate was evident as Unz participated in a panel about bilingual education at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference in Phoenix on Thursday.
“Don’t think for a minute that this isn’t about trying to eliminate or reduce the amount of Spanish spoken in the United States,” said Micky Ibarra of the National Education Association and a former aide to President Clinton.
“Don’t think for a minute this is not about the ambitions of one man,” Ibarra said.
Unz simply smiled. In front of him were stacks of copies from major newspapers and magazines that praised his campaigns.
“Bilingual education is a failure. That’s what this is really about,” he said.