San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, June 3, 1998

Big Victory for Measure To End Bilingual Education
Opponents say they'll file suit today
By NANETTE ASIMOV, Chronicle Staff Writer

True to pre-election polls, the anti-bilingual education measure Proposition 227 won overwhelmingly last night -- leading opponents to announce they will sue today to block the measure.

A second education measure, Proposition 223 -- the 5 percent spending cap on school administration -- was trailing last night.

Proposition 227 will outlaw nearly all classes taught in languages besides English, and replace them with an English-language class lasting one school year. The measure will affect California's 1.4 million non-English-speaking students, or nearly one in four students.

``The people in California and the Latino immigrants have won a tremendous victory,'' said Ron Unz, the software entrepreneur who bankrolled much of the crusade to end bilingual education. He and others in the English-only campaign spent the evening in a Los Angeles hotel glued to the Internet, watching returns.

``We won despite the opposition of the president of the United States, the chairmen of the California Republican and Democratic parties, and all four candidates for governor,'' he said.

State Superintendent Delaine Eastin -- who was falling short last night of the 50 percent vote needed to avoid a runoff against Gloria Matta Tuchman, a Proposition 227 co-sponsor -- said she will uphold the new law despite her opposition.

``The just-passed initiative provides for a transition period of at least 60 days, and I will be contacting school districts within the next few weeks with preliminary guidance,'' Eastin said.

She said an implementation team will also ``review ambiguous provisions of the initiative'' that may conflict with federal law.

But a victory for Proposition 227 is no assurance that the educational landscape will change anytime soon.

``We will sue to seek relief from this ill-founded, illegal proposition that would set our children back over 30 years,'' said San Francisco superintendent Bill Rojas, confirming that his district will join Latino civil rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union in a federal lawsuit today.

They are expected to claim the measure violates a federal guarantee of equal access to education, and are holding press conferences in San Francisco this morning.

School districts from San Jose to Sacramento say they have no plans to stop using primary languages to help children learn. Several -- including Oakland, San Jose, and Berkeley -- said they will also try to win a state waiver.

San Francisco and Alameda were the only counties in the state where the measure was failing last night.

With the measure's victory, proponents may also head to court. Proposition 227 lets parents sue any teacher who violates its English-only provisions.

But its passage also places up to $61 million of federal bilingual education money to California, say U.S. education officials. That is because 70 percent of the $88 million in total funding comes in the form of grants for many activities that, as of today, may be illegal.

Each of the 254 such grants held by California districts will now come under immediate review, said Delia Pompa, director of bilingual education for the U.S. Department of Education.

Although no other state has produced an initiative similar to Proposition 227, several are watching closely to see how the legal and financial issues unfold in the nation's largest state school system.

In California, about 700,000 children have been taught all or partly in their first language, records show.

Under Proposition 227, such classes will be prohibited for children under age 10 unless parents of 20 students in the same grade make a request in person each year. This rule also will apply to ``language immersion'' schools, which are popular with English- speaking children learning a foreign language.

The measure also requires that $50 million in school money be spent each year to teach English to adults.

Teacher Luisa Ezquerro, bilingual education department chairwoman at San Francisco's McAteer High, said she will not comply with the English-only rule, despite the threat of lawsuits against teachers. Her views showed how hard it will be for teachers, who mainly opposed the measure, to comply with it.

``I'll go to court,'' she said. ``If they want to use me as a test case, fine.''

Meanwhile, Proposition 223 was trailing last night. The measure would cap spending on school administration at 5 percent of a district's overall budget.

Districts failing to comply would be fined about $175 per pupil, money that would be given to districts that did comply. Opponents say the measure, developed by the Los Angeles teachers' union, would benefit the vast Los Angeles district at the expense of smaller districts.

Statewide, districts spend an average of 7.3 percent on administration -- or about $700 million more than the proposition would allow, said the state Legislative Analyst.

Only the rare district spends 5 percent or less on administration. Los Angeles spends 7.4 percent, San Francisco 8.4 percent, Oakland 9.9 percent, Mount Diablo 5.5 percent, and San Jose 10.6 percent.