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.

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 teaching.
     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 their initiative.
     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 measure.