San Francisco Examiner

Saturday, May 2, 1998

3-day Bay Area Stay Starts with Attack on Anti-Bilingual Bill
By ZACHARY COILE of the Examiner Staff

PALO ALTO - Using the full power of his bully pulpit, President Clinton slammed Proposition 227, calling it the "wrong answer" to reform the state's bilingual education system.

Clinton said the measure on the June ballot, which seeks to replace bilingual education with English-only classes, would unjustly punish children who entered school speaking only a foreign language.

"We're talking about 100 different languages now and children at different stages of their own development," Clinton said at a fund-raising dinner Friday night. "The transition into English from some languages takes longer than others, and for some people takes longer than others."

Clinton's comments put him once again squarely in the middle of a divisive initiative fight in California. The president had previously opposed Propositions 209 and 215, measures to end affirmative action and for medicinal marijuana. Both measures won despite his public stands.

In fact, Prop. 227 now has strong support, backed by a 2-to-1 ratio by Californians in polls. With just five weeks to go before the June 2 election, the measure seems headed for passage.

The initiative, sponsored by Silicon Valley software engineer Ron Unz, would move children into English-only classes after one year of bilingual education.

The president acknowledged that initiative backers were tapping into public frustration about a bilingual education system that had failed many children. But he said the real problem was a shortage of well-trained teachers and programs to deal with kids who came to California classrooms speaking many different languages.

'We need to do right'
"We need to do right by these kids," Clinton said. "And doing right means giving them what they need, but not keeping them tracked in some sort of intellectual purgatory where they'll get bored and drop out of school."

The comments came at the start of a three-day visit to the Bay Area for Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. The main purpose of the trip is to see daughter Chelsea, who is finishing her freshman year at Stanford University. The couple are staying in the Palo Alto home of Apple Computer Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs.

Clinton's staff has kept the itinerary deliberately light: one public event, one fund-raiser and two days to indulge in golf and family time before he heads to Los Angeles Sunday afternoon for back-to-back fund-raisers for congressional Democrats.