Bilingual Education Targeted for Ballot: California Voters May Get Referendum

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES - After having their say on affirmative action and benefits for undocumented immigrants, Californians will become the first in the nation to vote on another contentious issue, bilingual education, if a new initiative qualifies for the ballot.

The English Language Education for Immigrant Children Initiative mandates that all children in California public schools shall be taught in English and placed in English-language classrooms.

Parents who wish to place their children in bilingual classes would have to make a special request, a reversal of the current system.

The initiative's supporters hope to qualify it for the June 1998 primary-election ballot with the signatures of 1 million registered voters.

"Some issues are liberal versus conservative. This is sanity versus insanity," said the measure's author, Ron Unz, a San Francisco Bay Area software entrepreneur who ran for governor in 1994 as a Republican.

Last year, Mr. Unz met with Latino parents in Los Angeles who were protesting bilingual policies that kept their children in Spanish-language classes. With various bilingual measures stalled in the legislature, Mr. Unz decided on a ballot initiative.

More than 1,200,000 California students, 23 percent of the state total, are classified as not proficient in English. Mr. Unz charges that each year only 5 percent of these students gain English proficiency. "The system has an annual failure rate of 95 percent," he said.

"[Bilingualism] has failed a whole generation of Hispanic children," said Gloria Matta Tuchman, an Orange County elementary school teacher of Mexican-American background and co-author of the initiative. "Dropout rates are phenomenal."

The ballot initiative states students "shall be taught English by being taught in English," it says. …