Los Angeles Times
Tuesday, May 5, 1998
Legislators OK Alternative to Prop. 227
By CARL INGRAM, Times Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO--The Legislature's alternative to a June 2 ballot initiative
that would virtually eliminate bilingual education in California public
schools won narrow final passage Monday and was sent to Gov. Pete Wilson.
who has acknowledged that he is "strongly leaning" toward supporting
Proposition 227, refused to say whether he will sign the bill, but indicated
that he was not pleased by its late arrival.
at the last moment. I'm not going to prejudge it. I will judge it on its
merits, but it is very, very late," Wilson told reporters.
me of the belated efforts made by the Legislature in 1978 to try to forestall
passage of Proposition 13," Wilson said of the Legislature's eleventh-hour
attempt to rewrite California's bilingual education law.
ago, as the popular property-tax-slashing Proposition 13 soared in opinion
polls, lawmakers hastily crafted an alternative for the ballot. Proposition
13 crushed it and then sparked other tax-cutting revolts across the nation.
Two weeks ago,
the Assembly approved a heavily amended version of the Legislature's bilingual
education reform bill after Latino Democrats abandoned their previous opposition
and agreed to support a compromise. It offers school districts greater
flexibility in crafting bilingual education programs than the ballot initiative
The Senate followed
on Monday, sending the bill (SB 6) to Wilson on a 21-13 vote, the bare
majority required for passage. Most Democrats were in favor and most Republicans
not a last-minute attempt to defeat the Unz initiative," Sen. Dede
Alpert (D-Coronado), the bill's author, told her Senate colleagues. "We
should adopt this bill because it is good policy."
has 30 days after he receives the bill to make a decision, a deadline that
will not arrive until after the June 2 election.
If signed into
law by Wilson, the effort would allow legislators to note that they had
belatedly reached consensus on reforming bilingual education, and provide
an alternative to the Unz initiative during the remainder of the campaign.
The bill also would be the standard for bilingual education in California
if Proposition 227 fails or is tied up in the courts.
227 campaign spokeswoman Sheri Annis said that even if Wilson signs the
bill, it would have no effect on the election. "Most Californians
see that this is a last-minute effort to try to justify the Legislature's
inaction for the past decade," she said.
The battle over
the future of bilingual education has attracted nationwide attention. During
his just-completed weekend visit to California, President Clinton warned
that Proposition 227 would make matters worse for limited English speakers.
227 would all but abolish bilingual education in California schools. The
initiative would allow as much as one year of instruction in an English-only
immersion program. Under the current bilingual education system, some students
spend years learning in their native languages before they transition to
mainstream English classes.
Under the initiative,
however, parents could seek waivers to the one-year immersion program under
Backers of the
initiative, which is sponsored by Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz, assert
that the patchwork of bilingual education programs has failed to help limited
English speakers become fluent or prepare them for jobs or college when
they leave high school. About 1.4 million California students speak a native
language other than English; about 30% of them are receiving formal bilingual
education at any time.
alternative, which first passed the Senate last year, would give school
districts greater flexibility to design and operate bilingual programs
keyed to the individual needs of their students.
The Alpert bill
would allow local educators to decide whether total immersion in English,
instruction in a student's primary language or something in between works
But the bill
also requires districts to measure and demonstrate that students are becoming
fluent in English and are meeting district academic standards.
that Proposition 227 contains no accountability standards or any way to
assess whether a student is becoming proficient in English or other subjects.
As a magnet
for immigrants, California was a pioneer in creating bilingual education
for English learners in the 1970s. Its specific state-mandated guidelines
expired a decade ago and have not been renewed, leaving an often fragmented
and uneven mix of programs.
G. Polanco (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Legislature's Latino caucus
who opposed the bill in the Senate last year, said Monday that he reluctantly
changed his mind because of Proposition 227.
not run off the Unz initiative," Polanco said of the bill approved
Monday. "But I'll tell you, the Unz initiative will do more damage
to the [children] in the long run."
But Sen. Ray
Haynes (R-Riverside), a foe of bilingual education, praised the Unz plan
as the "best solution" and charged that the Alpert bill "preserves
much of the status quo."