Bilingual education began as a benign $7.5 million federal program when Congress passed the Bilingual Education Act in 1968. It was absorbed into the fabric of the American education system when the U.S. Supreme Court, in its landmark 1974 Lau v. Nichols ruling, found that the San Francisco school system could not let Chinese students “sink or swim” in English-only classes. Though the court ruled that schools must provide special language instruction to the students, it did not require the use of foreign languages. Nevertheless the U.S. Department of Education twisted the decision to craft the so-called “Lau remedies” – unfunded federal mandates that coerced schools to use “native language and culture” when teaching English to immigrant students. Thus, thanks to the unconstitutional intervention of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of the federal government, bilingual education was implanted, and then metastasized into a gargantuan program costing $4 billion per year in California and $16 billion per year nationally. Today, bilingual education efforts benefit sundry political and personal agendas to the detriment of the school children they were supposedly intended to help.

In California, thousands of bilingual teachers are paid a $5,000 annual stipend to teach LEP (limited English proficient) students in their “native” languages. Nearly 2,000,000 children are condemned to this system, in which they spend 80 percent of the school day studying in their primary language. The result: Among Latino students ( the largest non-English speaking group) there is a 50 percent dropout rate.

Unz Intrusion

Into this bilingual nightmare has entered Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz with Proposition 227, which has been deceptively paraded as an anti-bilingual education proposal. Many sincere conservative California voters have mistakenly supported the initiative, in spite of Unz’s liberal track record.

When Unz ran against California Governor Pete Wilson in the 1994 primary, both he and Prop. 227 co-sponsor Gloria Matta Tuchman, a recently announced candidate for State School Superintendent, vigorously opposed Proposition 187. Overwhelmingly approved in 1994 by California voters, Prop. 187 barred illegal immigrants from receiving publicly funded education, social services, and nonemergency health care. However, the new law was immediately challenged in a flurry of lawsuits by the ACLU, various Latino activist groups, and the state’s own department of education. Unfortunately, the case was assigned to left-wing U.S. District Judge Marianna Pfaelzer, who, predictably, sided with the ACLU and stopped implementation of Prop. 187. The state of California is appealing her decision.

Unz used his prestige and considerable wealth to wage an intense campaign against Prop. 187. In October 1994, he was introduced at an anti-Prop. 187 demonstration in Los Angeles by Juan Jose Gutierrez, head of the group One Stop Immigration. Unz incited the throng by exclaiming that Prop. 187 “would turn California into one large prison camp, filled with [illegal alien] mothers.” He called the measure “the most monstrous proposal that’s ever gotten on the ballot,” and declared that taxpayer-subsidized education of illegals is “a question of morality.” It is no surprise, then, that his own Prop. 227 states that “the public schools of California have a moral obligation and a constitutional duty to provide all of California’s children ? with the skills necessary to become productive members of our society….” (Emphasis added.) There is no specification in the measure of legal immigration status of the children.

On May 27, 1997, Unz took great pride in declaring in a letter to the Los Angeles Spanish language newspaper La Opinion, “I was one of the top featured speakers at a huge 70,000 person anti-187 rally organized in downtown LA ? and nearly the only Anglo of prominence who had the courage to be involved in that event. Through my personal efforts, I managed to persuade prominent national Republicans such as Bill Bennett, Jack Kemp, and others to publicly oppose Prop. 187.”

Devil in the Details

What does Unz’s vehement anti-Prop. 187 position have to do with Prop. 227, the so-called “English Language Education for Immigrant Children Initiative”? Simply stated, Unz’s posturing to end bilingual education in California cannot be divorced from his embrace of continued welfare for illegal immigrants, including taxpayer financed education (costing an estimated $1.2 billion per year), and his desire to fund radical groups agitating for immigration “rights.” Prop. 227 is a deceit perpetrated upon uninformed California voters who have not taken the time to understand what is behind it. It is, in short, an end-run around Prop. 187. As we shall see, the devil is in the details.

At first glance, Prop. 227 looks appealing. Unfortunately, many people have not read beyond the initiative’s bold faced title. Costly native language programs might be replaced by programs that would immerse students in English. This is how English was taught prior to the Bilingual Education Act of 1968. But Prop. 227 never once refers to “legal status.” Instead, beneficiaries of its programs and funds are identified as California “residents,” “people,” “immigrants,” “parents,” and “members of the community.” Article 1, Sec 1 (c) states that California has a “moral obligation” to teach “all” of the state’s children, a declaration which strikes at the very heart of Prop. 187’s mandated end to public education of illegal alien students at taxpayer expense. You can be sure that this provision of Prop. 187 will be challenged immediately by open border advocates if Prop. 227 is passed. As for the “moral obligation” Californians are under to educate illegals, one need only look to Unz’s own words, spoken in October 1994: “I oppose many government programs, but this [denying public education to illegals] is a question of morality.” While a recent state legislative counsel opinion claims that Prop. 187, if upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, will not be overridden by Prop. 227, that opinion fails to address key language in Prop. 227, Section 300(c) which indicates that the measure must apply to “all of California’s children” – which could be interpreted to include children who are illegal immigrants.

Article 2, Section 305 of Prop. 227 states, “As much as possible, current supplemental funding for English learners shall be maintained….” This effectively means that more money will be spent on immigrant students than on American-born children. LEP students are labeled “at risk,” and like other categories of “at risk” students, they qualify their schools for higher ADA (average daily attendance) funding. One out of four California elementary school students is classified as LEP. How will maintaining this funding structure end bilingual education?

Article 3, Sections 310-311, allows parents and legal guardians to secure “waivers” from English-immersion programs for immigrant children, who must then be placed in bilingual education programs or other curricula. Considering the bilingual education lobby’s efforts to keep its 15,000 bilingual teachers employed – together with pressure from immigrant families – these waivers will empower virtually every LEP student in California’s school system to demand native language education. The fact is that Article 3 loopholes actually create a law mandating bilingual education on demand when such a law has not existed in a decade. Furthermore, by allowing immigrant parents to demand a separate, special, and more costly curriculum for their children, Prop. 227 paves the way for de facto preference-based school vouchers not available to students who do not require special English instruction.

Adult Education

But this is not the least of it. Article 4, Section 315 establishes a ten-year, $500,000,000 program, ostensibly for “providing additional funding for free or subsidized programs of adult English language instruction to parents or other members of the community who pledge to provide English language tutoring to California’s school children with limited English proficiency.” (Emphasis added.) Again, there is no reference to immigration status – legal or illegal – and virtually no accountability regarding how these funds will be distributed or spent. If Unz’s goal to end bilingual education for children is genuine, why did he build in additional monies for adult immigrant education? English language instruction listed in Prop. 227 is presently offered in most of California’s adult schools at nominal or no cost to the students!

Los Angeles Unified School Superintendent Ruben Zacarias had this to say about adult education: “Our adult schools [for immigrants] are headquartered on high school campuses…. This started out very quietly because there are those that knew we were creating a whole new cadre of brand new citizens, and it would have a tremendous political impact. We would change the political panorama of not only L.A. County, but the state. And when you do that, you change the political panorama of a nation. So we did it very quietly, and legally…. In close to three years we have processed a little over 78,000 brand new citizens! This is the largest new-citizenship program in the entire nation….” (Emphasis added.) Does Prop. 227 mandate teaching children English so that they can assimilate into American culture or, as Zacarias boasts, does it “change the political panorama of a nation” via adult education?

And who will do the instructing? They are the very groups which Unz supports, such as One Stop Immigration. California’s Department of Education funds various radical left-wing groups, called “community-based organizations” (CBOs). Three such groups received 40 percent of the $6.5 million distributed by the California Department of Education for such instruction in 1997.

In May 1997, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin gave Hermandad Mexicana Nacional (“Mexican National Brotherhood”) $2.1 million. Hermandad is the group that was under investigation for registering non-citizens to vote in the Dornan-Sanchez congressional election. This group has been spared indictments because two of its principal members have fled to Mexico.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) received $79,000 from the state education coffers in 1996-97. LULAC’s officers were previously investigated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for fraud involving illegal alien amnesty programs and fraudulent applications for temporary residents. One-Stop Immigration, whose sole raison d’?tre is to quickly register immigrants as new citizens irrespective of their legal status, received $657,000 from the California Department of Education in 1996-97. Remember, One-Stop’s Juan Jose Gutierrez introduced Unz at the anti-Prop. 187 rally in Los Angeles.

Why is the Department of Education giving these groups tax dollars when they support an agenda of divisive racial intolerance and illegal immigration? These groups have opposed every proposal to curb illegal immigration and have actively campaigned for an amendment to the California State Constitution allowing all residents, regardless of legal status, the right to vote.

Gloria Matta Tuchman, Unz’s standard-bearer for Prop. 227, on July 10, 1997 emphasized that Prop. 227 “allows for parental exceptions and even gives parents the right to bring a lawsuit against those that would deny them access” to bilingual education programs. If this proposition is to eliminate bilingual education, why offer a “choice”? Tuchman herself is a former board member of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the tax-exempt litigation arm for the radical Latino movement. MALDEF’s stated mission is to protect language rights of Latinos in the areas of education, voting rights, and government services. Tuchman was also LULAC’s Woman of the Year in 1988. Ex-MALDEF attorney Norma Cantu presently heads the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). When school districts decide to jettison bilingual education to try English immersion, Cantu’s OCR threatens to file civil rights suits against them and yank federal funding. The schools, parents, and children are caught in a pincer attack between the radical activists who are operating through the government and their militant comrades who are demonstrating in the streets.

Are California voters being urged to vote on Prop. 227 to pour millions of dollars into new citizenship programs or to give immigrant parents a “choice” of what language their child learns?

In a May 19, 1997 mass e-mail Unz answered this question: “The extra $50 million [funding mandated by Prop. 227] which would be spent each year to pay for free English classes for adults [immigrants] could really help ease the citizenship backlog. In fact, I’ve suggested to several people that the signature gathering drive in Latino East L.A. could be combined with a voter registration drive ? I would hope that the passage of this measure would help undo much of the social damage done to our state by passage of Prop. 187.”

Prop. 187’s ban on publicly financed education for illegal aliens will be overturned if Prop. 227 is passed by virtue of the fact that the $500 million tax grab from the state’s General Fund to pay for the “free” English classes for adults does not specify that the recipients be legal residents.

On March 12, 1998, the State Board of Education voted unanimously to empower local school districts to end native-language instruction. This vote was cast in spite of the objections of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin and MALDEF. Some recent polls indicate that many immigrant parents recognize the benefit of English immersion and want that for their children, rather than the failed, costly bilingual education programs.

California voters who initially endorsed the Unz Initiative will have the opportunity to mend their ways on June 2nd by voting “No” on Prop. 227.

-Peter Ford

Mr. Ford is a talk-show host on radio station KIEV (870 AM) in Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at his website,

Comments are closed.