San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday, May 19, 1998

Wilson's Poison Pen

GOVERNOR WILSON's veto yesterday of a bilingual education reform bill does a huge disservice to Californians. It also contradicts the governor's oft- stated belief in local control of schools.

The bipartisan bill by Senator Dede Alpert, D-Coronado, and Assemblyman Brooks Firestone, R-Los Olivos, would have given local school districts authority to decide how best to teach their students with little or no English-speaking skills. They could choose bilingual, immersion, or even a combination program.

The bill's authors did not leave it to districts alone to judge whether their programs work. The legislation included an accountability system that would have required schools to assess the students every year. If they did not demonstrate progress after two years in mastering English, whatever program they were using would have to be overhauled.

Although Alpert's bill was written before Proposition 227 qualified for the June 2 ballot, it has become the alternative to the measure. By vetoing the Alpert-Firestone bill -- Wilson said it was ``too little, and much too late'' -- he deprives voters of that option.

In a separate statement from his veto message, Wilson announced his support for Proposition 227. The initiative would mandate, with a few exceptions, that schools offer a one-year transition class in English immersion, after which they would be placed in English-only classes.

A number of bilingual programs throughout the state have been plagued by problems, but many others have done what they are supposed to -- teach academics in the native language while moving students into all-English programs. Instead of giving Californians a constructive alternative -- along with local control of bilingual education -- Wilson is hoping that voters will not see through his cynical ploy for an inflexible initiative.

Don't be fooled. There are alternatives. Vote no on 227.