Los Angeles Times
Friday, November 14, 1997
Bilingual Education Critics File Petitions
Schools: Backers of proposed initiative to require all classes
in English say they will get 700,000 signatures. Group seeking limits on
union campaign fund-raising also submits names.
By NICK ANDERSON, ERIC BAILEY, Times Staff Writers
Aiming for a showdown vote in June, critics of bilingual education in
California on Thursday turned in the first batch of what they say are more
than 700,000 voter signatures for a statewide measure to require all-English
Another proposed initiative also moved ahead
as an Orange County group submitted signatures to election officials around
the state for a measure challenging how unions raise campaign money.
The two initiative campaigns must now wait
as officials sample petitions to determine how many signatures are valid.
An announcement on whether each has the 433,269 needed to qualify for the
ballot is expected by Jan. 22.
Both groups displayed little concern about
that formality as they pressed their cases.
"We're advocating common sense,"
said Ron K. Unz, the millionaire software entrepreneur who leads the anti-bilingual
education campaign. "We're advocating teaching English to the children
as quickly as possible when they start school."
Unz, speaking at a news conference in downtown
Los Angeles with his co-sponsor, Orange County schoolteacher Gloria Matta
Tuchman, displayed more than a dozen cartons of petitions that were later
handed to the Los Angeles County registrar of voters.
They appeared at Las Familias del Pueblo
community center, which in 1996 was the base for a boycott of bilingual
education by parents from a nearby school, who demanded that their children
be taught in English.
Unz said that the "English for the Children"
campaign will turn in more signatures in the other California counties
where they were collected.
State records show that Unz has raised more
than $470,000 for his campaign, including $270,000 he loaned himself.
His major backers include Fieldstead &
Co., an Irvine group linked to Christian conservative causes, which gave
$48,000; Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, who gave $1,000;
Jacobs Engineering Group of Pasadena, which gave $10,000; and Florida businessmen
Harry Teasley and William A. Dunn, who gave $25,000 each.
Unz's opponents concede that the initiative
is likely to qualify because he has such resources to pay petition circulators.
But bilingual education advocates say that
he is misleading the public about the complex process of second-language
learning and promise a strong effort to defeat the initiative.
"How truthful are those signatures when
people have been told, 'Do you want your children to learn English?' Who
wouldn't sign that?" said Maria S. Quezada, president of the California
Assn. for Bilingual Education. "I think that's fraudulent. It's based
on very false misconceptions and representations of the program."
She and other supporters of bilingual education
argue that many children need help in their home language to avoid falling
behind in other subjects while they learn English.
The proposed initiative targets the teaching
of about 1.4 million children in public schools who are not proficient
in English, about a quarter of the state's students. Most speak Spanish.
Although Unz is attacking bilingual education, only three out of 10 such
students are taught in their native language, in part because of a shortage
of qualified teachers.
If approved by voters, the initiative would
require virtually all classroom instruction to be in English, with limited
exceptions. Children who are not fluent would get about a year of special
help in English and then move into mainstream classes.
The initiative would hold teachers and school
officials liable for violating its provisions. It also calls for the state
to spend $500 million to tutor adults in English.
Many Californians seem receptive to the proposal,
according to a recent Los Angeles Times poll, which found overwhelming
support among registered voters for a proposed all-English teaching requirement.
Foes of the initiative, calling themselves
Citizens for an Educated America, contend that those numbers will turn
around when voters learn more.
"It's an extreme initiative," said
James Crawford, an education writer who is a consultant for the National
Assn. for Bilingual Education in Washington. "It doesn't try to reform
bilingual ed, or fix bilingual ed, or do anything in a moderate way."
Meanwhile, backers of the anti-union measure
announced that they had turned in more than 775,000 signatures to qualify
The measure, backed by Gov. Pete Wilson and
other prominent Republicans, would hamstring labor leaders by requiring
them to get written permission each year before spending a member's dues
on political causes.
"It really comes down to free speech,"
said Frank Ury, one of the measure's Orange County authors. "Should
union members have to give up their dues without any say to support things
they may not believe in? We feel that's just wrong."
Hours after the signatures were filed, a
group representing labor filed a lawsuit in Sacramento to block the proposed