Los Angeles Times
Tuesday, April 21, 1998
Assembly Tries to Beat Prop. 227 to the Punch
Education: Legislators approve milder version of the ballot
measure that would effectively ban bilingual education in the state. Polls
say voters may not be so easily appeased.
By MAX VANZI,
ERIC BAILEY, Times Staff Writers
SACRAMENTO--In a desperate attempt to head off a June ballot initiative
that would end most bilingual instruction for non-English-speaking schoolchildren,
the state Assembly on Monday tried to sell the public on a less harsh approach.
Concluding a heated lower house debate, legislators
easily passed a bill designed to allow local control and flexibility in
bilingual teaching, in contrast to the more stringent ballot measure. The
vote was 50 to 27.
The bill by state Sen. Dede Alpert (D-Coronado)
was hastily sent to the Senate for a final legislative vote before being
sent to Gov. Pete Wilson for his signature.
It is unclear whether Wilson will sign Alpert's
bill. The governor has not taken a stance on the June ballot initiative,
but he held discussions with Democratic leaders last year asking them to
send him a bill reforming bilingual education. He also warned lawmakers
that if they didn't act soon, voters would do the job for them.
Voters may well act in any case by passing
Proposition 227 in June: Opinion polls show overwhelming support for the
measure, sponsored by conservative businessman Ron Unz.
"This is exactly the sort of parliamentary
gamesmanship that gives California state government a bad reputation,"
Unz said. "This bill would have virtually no impact on the problems
with bilingual education facing our state. It simply represents a fig leaf
for lawmakers trying to justify their inflated salaries."
With six weeks to go before the June 2 primary
election, backers of the Alpert bill said there is still time to swing
voters away from the ballot measure.
"I'm not at all sure that Proposition
227 will prevail," said Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni (D-San Rafael),
who led the fight for passage on the Assembly floor. Despite polls showing
that three-quarters of California voters approve of the Unz initiative,
"public support has been losing ground" recently, she said.
A "reasonable legislative alternative,"
Mazzoni said, would show that "we've already addressed the problem
of English learners."
Republican opponents ridiculed the notion
that there is a realistic chance of changing public opinion at this late
Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove),
for example, asked majority Democrats to explain, "Where were you
on Sept. 9," at the end of last year's legislative session. If enacted
then, "bill could have taken effect on Jan. 1, 1998, and given a chance
. . . to show the people that we can act" to reform the bilingual
In contrast to the Unz approach, which would
immerse non-English-speaking children in English-language instruction in
the early years, the Alpert bill would give school districts a freer hand
to shape whatever approach they believe works best. That might include
instruction in a student's native language, immersion in classrooms dominated
by English or some other approach. It also would hold districts accountable
for producing positive results.
Assembly insiders said Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa
(D-Los Angeles) had worked to persuade fellow Democratic Latino members
that the Alpert bill was their best hope to hold off an Unz victory at
Nine Republicans joined the majority Democrats
in voting for the bill.