Governor should sign education bill

Bilingual Education: Legislature provides alternative to Unz initiative.

In approving a bill that would provide each school district in California with the flexibility to design and implement the bilingual instructional program best-suited to its students, the Legislature has provided voters with an excellent alternative to the Unz initiative.

Last week’s Assembly approval of Senate Bill 6 was long-overdue, as it has received the support of those most in the know about bilingual education: educators. Instead of forcing school districts to accept a one-size-fits-all law, SB 6, co-sponsored by Assemblyman Brooks Firestone, R-Los Olivos, and state Sen. Dede Alpert, D-San Diego, recognizes that there are a variety of legitimate approaches to teaching immigrant children and allows each district to choose for itself.

This bill is in stark contrast to the controversial — but increasingly popular — Proposition 227. Known as the Unz initiative, the ill-conceived proposition was written by Silicon Valley multimillionaire Ron Unz. It basically would require all students in California schools to be taught only in English after a maximum of one year of English instruction, regardless of whether those students had the ability to understand and speak English.

As was detailed by Star reporters Holly Hacker and Jean Cowden Moore in the April 19-20 series, “Bilingual Education: Si or no?” this issue is complex and there is no consensus on what works. A majority of educators are adamant, however, that Proposition 227 will not work and will have a disastrous effect on the children of California shoved into an English-only environment after only one year of English-language instruction.

Supporters of the Unz initiative, including Assemblyman Tom McClintock, R-Granada Hills, say Proposition 227 “fixes a system that discriminates against children of Latino immigrants.”

Unfortunately, both for the children who are stuck in the middle of this debate and for the educational system as a whole, California’s voters have become caught up in a wave of enthusiasm in support of Proposition 227, which, according to polls, is headed toward almost certain victory on June 2.

Gov. Pete Wilson can rein in this enthusiasm, much of it fed by a misunderstanding of the Unz initiative — and give cause for further discussion of this important issue — by showing his support for the Firestone/Alpert bill that awaits his signature.

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