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California's Largest Teachers Union to Hold Referendum on Endorsing "English for the Children" Initiative

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October 1, 1997.

Los Angeles, CA---Activist members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) will turn in sufficient union signatures 10:30am Wednesday Oct.1 to schedule a union referendum to endorse the "English for the Children" initiative against "bilingual education" and assist its qualification and passage. Doug Lasken, who leads his elementary school's UTLA chapter, organized the effort, gathering some 600 union signatures, well over the 500 necessary to schedule a union vote. UTLA is California's largest public school teachers union local with 35,000 members and the vote must be held within 30-60 days. Mr. Lasken will turn in the signatures at UTLA headquarters, located at 3303 Wilshire Blvd, 2 blocks west of Vermont.

Mr. Lasken has written numerous articles critical of the LA Unified School District's "bilingual education" policy, especially the provisions which prevented teachers from spending more than 30 minutes each day teaching English to young immigrant children. He expects his referendum to have an excellent chance of passing: "We rank-and-file teachers see American-born Latino kids graduate elementary school who can't read or write English, and that's a tragedy that has to be stopped. I hope our union leaders don't try to block our "English education" steam-roller and find themselves flattened, just like the Republican Party leaders were last week at their own convention."

Many public school teachers have long been skeptical of current "bilingual education" policy, with the late Albert Shanker, long-time leader of the American Federation of Teachers, being an especially sharp critic. In 1987, the UTLA membership had voted 78% in favor of an advisory referendum asking their union leadership to eliminate "bilingual education" through the collective-bargaining process, which the union leadership was unable to achieve within existing law.

Ron Unz, Chairman of "English for the Children," sees the possibility of a major union endorsement as being another sign of the bipartisan nature of the issue. "Teachers unions are one of the core constituencies of the Democratic Party, and if we can gain the endorsement of their rank-and-file members, it makes it much easier for Democratic elected officials to voice their true feelings on our initiative. Teachers were among the strongest opponents of Prop. 187 and Prop. 209, and their support will help demonstrate that our initiative stands on its own two feet."