There’s a saying about state ballot propositions: as a general rule, vote yes on legislative measures and no on initiatives. The ballot measures on the June 2 ballot make a case for that rule.

The reason for the rule is that legislative measures go through all the public hearing processes of any bill before the Legislature before being passed by both houses and signed by the governor. Often changes are made when problems are pointed out.

Initiatives are more likely the product of individuals or small groups who talk only to themselves when they are writing these things. There is little or no public scrutiny before they are declared ballot measures. Most are bad to very bad.

Among bad examples are the two education measures, Proposition 227, which would mandate the “immersion” system of teaching English to bilingual students, and Proposition 224, which would mandate that only 5 percent of a school district’s budget could be used for administration.

Both of these measures ask me to tell the schools how they ought to be run. I have no idea how young children learn a second language or what is a reasonable amount of a school’s budget for administration.

There are 300 languages and dialects spoken by students in California schools. I know people who came to this country at an early age and learned by immersion. I wonder if that can happen when there is a whole classroom of students who regularly speak another language.

Mandating immersion, or mandating any other form of bilingual education, seems to me to be a very poor way to tell our educators how to educate. What if you throw new students into an “immersion” classroom and, after the prescribed year they can’t speak English well enough to learn in it? Do you keep them there forever, as they slip farther and farther away from real education?

The bilingual measure was put on the ballot by a bilingual teacher who has had success with the immersion method and by conservative politician Ron Unz. They are trying to dictate how everybody does it.

A Los Angeles teachers union got the 95/5 measure on the ballot. They say they want to stop waste in school administration. One of the aspects of the measure is that school districts that exceed the 5 percent would have the excess taken from them and sent to schools below the 5 percent — most notably the huge Los Angeles school system. Excuse me?

I have no idea what schools should be spending on administration. I’m told that locally the amount ranges from about 4.5 percent to about 20 percent, with an average of about 6.5 percent. The 20 percent comes from the tiny Canyon district where the principal is one of the few teachers. Obviously, different school districts have different needs.

I believe we should tell the schools what outcomes we want and let them work out the how. If we as voters don’t like the way our schools are teaching English or spending on administration, it would seem the first logical step would be to go to the local school board and ask for changes.

IF that doesn’t work, we also elect the state superintendent of schools, the 120 legislators and the governor.

Both these measures are running ahead in the polls, and will probably pass. One reason is that they appeal to conservative voters. We are likely to have an abominably low turnout on June 2 because there is little excitement at the top of the ticket. The open primary ballot does not seem to be much of a lure.

You don’t have to be a liberal or a conservative to know the impact of a low voter turnout. It means most of the voters will be conservative, older and white. Such voters tend to want people to know English and to want to control school spending. That’s a simple fact of elections as we know and use them.

Pat Keeble is a veteran Contra Costa County reporter and editor of The Insider, a political newsletter. She may be reached at (510) 372-6125 or by E-mail at [email protected]



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