Los Angeles Times

Friday, May 8, 1998

Ads Heat Up Fight on Bilingual Ban
Opponents plan campaign on Spanish-language TV while supporters prepare radio spots.
By NICK ANDERSON, Times Staff Writer

California's shootout over bilingual education is moving onto the airwaves, with opponents of Proposition 227 attacking the June 2 ballot measure in television advertisements as an unwanted government mandate and supporters saying in radio ads that it would put an end to a failed teaching system.
     Until now, debate over the initiative, which would dismantle most bilingual teaching programs in the state's public schools, has taken place almost entirely in the news media and free public forums. The initiative has soared to high standing among voters in public opinion polls, and has been unchallenged by attack ads on television.
     But the initiative's free ride may be over.
     Political consultant Richie Ross of Citizens for an Educated America said Thursday that the first anti-Proposition 227 advertisements will air today statewide on the Spanish-language television network Univision.
     The script of a 30-second ad made public by the measure's opponents says, in Spanish, that the initiative "imposes a government mandate on every school district in the state."
     "We have to defeat Proposition 227 and let parents and teachers decide what is best for us," the script continues.
     It concludes by noting that President Clinton has announced his opposition to the initiative.
     Ross said the Spanish-language ad will be followed soon by two English-language television ads, one 30 seconds long and one 10 seconds long, which attack a provision of the initiative that would earmark $50 million a year for adult English literacy programs. He released the scripts of those ads but declined to say when or where they would air.
     Asked why the ad campaign was opening in the Spanish media, Ross said, "It's just cheaper."
     The opposition group reported $530,000 in its treasury in March, but that would not be enough for prolonged, extensive television advertising on English-language stations. The campaign declined to reveal how much it plans to spend on advertising.
     Also Thursday, the Proposition 227 campaign, English for the Children, announced that it would begin airing two radio advertisements early next week.
     Ron K. Unz, the millionaire Silicon Valley businessman who authored the initiative, said the 60-second ads will be broadcast in Spanish and English and feature two Latino spokesmen. One, he said, is Henry Gradillas, a former principal in the Los Angeles Unified School District who worked with famous math teacher Jaime Escalante to oppose bilingual education at Garfield High School.
     The other is a parent named Lenin Lopez, who participated in a 1996 boycott of bilingual education classes at the Ninth Street Elementary School in downtown Los Angeles.
     In a script released by Unz, Lopez says that he came to the United States from Mexico to find opportunity and a good education for his children.
     "Then I discovered the schools were teaching my children only in Spanish," Lopez says. "Without English, my children will not have a good future in this country. I asked the schools to teach more English, but they said no. . . . That's why I believe in Proposition 227, which will teach English to all Latino children from Day 1."
     Unz declined to say where the ads will air but said he expects they will start by Tuesday. He said he has spent more than $600,000 of his own money so far on the campaign, but that he hopes to hold to a modest budget for a statewide race.
     The ads unveiled Thursday reveal that both campaigns are angling heavily for Latino support, even though pollsters expect that Latino voters will make up only 10% of the June 2 electorate. A major reason is that the initiative's impact would be felt most heavily by Latino schoolchildren. Four out of five of the state's 1.4 million students with limited English skills speak Spanish as their first language.
     Although the initiative would undercut bilingual education, fewer than one-third of all limited-English students receive formal instruction in their native languages. The rest are taught entirely or mostly in English.
     The initiative would end native language instruction, with limited exceptions. In its place it prescribes about one year of special instruction in English, followed by mainstream classes. It also calls for spending $50 million a year for 10 years on programs to teach English to adults who pledge, in turn, to teach English to children.
     A Los Angeles Times poll last month showed that 63% of likely voters support the initiative. Latino voters, the poll found, also support it, but by a slimmer margin.
     Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field poll, which showed similar results, said the Proposition 227 opponents' pitch to Latino voters may be an effort to "rally its home constituency, or the constituency that's most affected by the ballot initiative, in hopes of rousing their passions and spreading the word."