October 24, 1997
Golding supports initiative curbing bilingual classes
San Diego Mayor Susan Golding on Thursday became the third Republican U.S. Senate hopeful to endorse a proposed ballot initiative to drastically scale back bilingual education in California schools.
Golding announced her support of the so-called "English for the Children" initiative in a Sacramento appearance with Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley businessman and former GOP gubernatorial candidate spearheading the initiative drive.
"Bilingual education has gotten to the point in California today where it is really robbing Americans, American children, of the opportunity to communicate with each other, to communicate in this country, and therefore succeed," Golding said.
Golding added that bilingual education has created "a cultural segregation in which non-English speaking children may be permanently trapped in a language which ultimately continues to separate them from the mainstream economy and mainstream success in this country."
Aimed at the June 1998 ballot, the Unz initiative would require that all California public school instruction be conducted in English, allowing exceptions in limited circumstances when parents request it.
Parents could request a waiver to allow bilingual instruction in their child's native language if the child was older than 10, already fluent in English or had special needs. Individual school districts would decide whether to grant the waivers. Schools only would be required to offer bilingual education classes only if parents of 20 or more students won waivers; otherwise, schools would be required to allow the student to transfer to another public school that offered such classes.
Opponents of the measure say these conditions are so stringent that bilingual programs would virtually disappear.
"This is a sink or swim approach," said Dolores Sanchez, a lobbyist for the California Federation of Teachers.
"These children have a right to a public education, and they have a right to understand what's going on in the classroom," she said.
But those fighting to preserve the current bilingual education system, which favors instruction in a child's primary language, may be fighting a strong current in public opinion.
A recent Los Angeles Times poll on early public sentiment on the Unz initiative showed 80 percent of all California voters supported it, with 84 percent of Latino voters doing so.
State Treasurer Matt Fong and car alarm magnate Darrell Issa, the two other announced Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Barbara Boxer, have previously endorsed the initiative.
Issa is already using it as a campaign issue, touting his support in radio ads airing around the state.
After Golding's announcement, the Issa campaign flooded reporters with news releases criticizing Golding for not endorsing the Unz initiative earlier and suggesting she was simply doing so now because of its apparent political popularity.
Issa's campaign noted Golding opposed a 1986 "English-only" ballot measure and has previously criticized her for opposing Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative aimed at eliminating many public services to illegal immigrants.
But Golding said she had always been interested in the Unz initiative. She said she just wanted to take time to read the fine print before lending her support.
"The bilingual education system as it exists today should be viewed as anti-immigrant," said Golding.
Boxer does not support the proposed initiative. Campaign spokesman Roy Behr said the initiative doesn't contain language requiring that students taught in English-only classrooms actually learn English.
Behr said Boxer "thinks it's important to reform bilingual education. But this initiative doesn't seem to be the best way to go about it."