Associated Press

Sunday, April 12, 1998

Voters to Decide Measures on Schools, Unions, Other Issues
By STEVE GEISSINGER, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- Most second-graders in Marylin Ferrey's class were reading well -- in Spanish.

For an hour a day, Ferrey switched to teaching in English. She had high hopes for her students. Then -- shortly after the start of school in September -- the Orange Unified School District halted bilingual education.

"My students were in shock," Ferrey wrote in a plea to continue bilingual teaching.

"Didn't you tell them that we don't understand English?" the students asked. "Why did they tell you to do this? What's wrong with us speaking Spanish?"

Overnight, model students started misbehaving. Ferrey sent some to the principal, others to time out.

The events were part of a precedent-setting test case that foreshadows Proposition 227 on the June 2 statewide ballot. Proposition 227 would require public school instruction to be conducted in English, all but ending bilingual education.

Supporters of the initiative say bilingual education has failed.

"For most of California's non-English speaking students, bilingual education actually means monolingual, Spanish-only education for the first four to seven years of school," says campaign chairman Ron Unz.

The fate of the proposition is being watched nationally. So too is the outcome of another initiative, which could seriously hinder organized labor's clout.

Proposition 226 would prohibit labor unions from using their members' dues for political campaigns without the members' written permission, renewed annually.

Also among the nine ballot measures are Proposition 223, which would prohibit school districts from spending more than 5 percent for administration; and Proposition 225, which would declare that elected officials should support a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting congressional terms.

Proposition 224 would require competitive bidding for state engineering or design contracts of more than $50,000, thereby outlawing many no-bid state contracts.

There are two court-efficiency measures. Proposition 220 would consolidate municipal and superior courts in a county upon a majority vote of judges; Proposition 221 would allow the Commission on Judicial Performance to discipline court commissioners and referees, subject to review of the Supreme Court.

A crime measure, Proposition 222, would increase the penalty for second-degree murder of a police officer from 25 years to life in prison to life without possibility of parole.

There's also a proposition partly aimed at avoiding the type of confusion that was generated by a 1993 sales tax measure. Proposition 219 would prohibit statewide initiatives from being unevenly applied around the state based on approval or disapproval votes in a given jurisdiction.

But among the June propositions, the most heated debate is over bilingual education. Each side claims to champion immigrants' rights and charges the other with forsaking children's futures.

A 1976 law required most districts to provide primary language instruction to English learners. The law expired in 1987, but the state Education Department had been using its regulatory powers to require districts to continue meeting the law's general principles.

Then a Sacramento Superior Court judge, ruling last month in the Orange Unified School District case, said the expiration of the law meant that the state had no authority to require districts to offer specific kinds of programs.

The state Board of Education responded by repealing all written policies requiring primary language instruction for English learners.

About 1.4 million public school children -- a fourth of the total school population -- are "limited English-proficient."

Some 80 percent of them are Spanish-speaking, but the languages spoken by students in any given district vary widely. California's polyglot schools officially recognize 55 languages.

Only 30 percent of English learners are currently in a bilingual program, due largely to a shortage of bilingual teachers. The rest are in English-only classrooms, with some receiving help in their primary language from an aide.

Proposition 227, backed by Unz, a Palo Alto software businessman, would require most English learners to be put in classrooms together and be taught "overwhelmingly" in English.

Children of all ages and similar fluency would be placed in the same classrooms and returned to regular classrooms within one year. Parents who wanted some other method would have to get an annual waiver and show their child already knows English well, is 10 years or older or has "special physical, emotional, psychological or educational needs."