- The Orange County Register
August 9, 1999
- Prop. 227's influence is seen in other states
EDUCATION: Activists in Arizona are promoting a similar
plan, but a Houston school board passed a policy endorsing
By JOHN GITTELSOHN and ELIZABETH CHEY
Popular initiatives in California have a history of starting national movements.
Proposition 13 in 1978 launched a national tax revolt. Proposition 187 in 1994
sparked a wave of legislation against illegal immigration.
By comparison, Proposition 227's effect is modest but it's still palpable in Congress,
statehouses and school districts around the nation.
Backed by 61 percent of California voters in June 1998, Prop. 227 requires that
almost all of California's 1.4 million limited-English students be taught in English,
ending a 25-year experiment with bilingual education.
In May, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., introduced the Parents Know Best Act, which would
require permission of parents before their children are enrolled in a federally funded
bilingual-education program. Current federal law allows parents to withdraw their
children from bilingual programs but does not require consent before students are
placed in those classes.
The most organized campaign is taking place in Arizona, where activists are gathering
signatures to place an initiative with nearly identical wording to 227 on the November
"If California could do it, then I think Arizona can, too," said Maria Mendoza of Tucson,
campaign chairwoman of English for the Children of Arizona and an opponent of bilingual
education for 30 years.
The release of California test scores in July, which showed improvements among
limited-English students, added momentum to the Arizona cause, Mendoza said.
"The California test scores mean a big boost for our campaign, because the argument of
our opponents was that we didn't have any statistics," she said. "Now we do."
Gloria Matta Tuchman, the Santa Ana teacher who co-led the pro-227 campaign, said
repercussions will grow if California's test scores continue to rise in coming years, as
"This is just the beginning," she said. "It's one state at a time."
But not all changes in bilingual programs are following California's lead.
The school board in Houston, the nation's fifth-largest school district, approved a new
policy in July that encourages multilingual education, a response to the area's growing
Hispanic population and demand from businesses for bilingual workers.
"Proposition 227 calls for English only. We called for proficiency in at least two
languages," said Gabriel Vasquez, a Houston school board member who sponsored the new
policy. "City leaders in Houston embraced diversity as a positive thing."
Still, the political clout of 227 has helped spur bilingual-education advocates to
reassess their unwavering opposition to English immersion. The National Association of
Bilingual Education installed new leadership in July that has officially acknowledged the
merits of different methods of teaching English, given the scarcity of resources and
teachers in some areas of the country.
"I don't want to say we're backing away from supporting bilingual programs," said NABE
spokesman Jaime Zapata. "We're saying the responsible thing is to address the needs of
children taking into account the situation in a community."
Tuchman is using her name recognition as a backer of the initiative to help her political
career. She is running for the Republican nomination to oppose Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D
Santa Ana, next year.
"It's definitely not a detriment 227 got about 58 percent of the vote in that district,"
Ron Unz, who bankrolled most of the pro-227 campaign, is circulating petitions for a
new initiative on the March 2000 California ballot, this one to reform campaign
The tactics of anti-227 forces who outspent Unz by about 20-to-1 aroused his
interest in the topic. Among other things, Unz's Voters Rights 2000 initiative includes a
ban on corporate donations to candidates, requires overnight Internet-based disclosure
of contributions, and caps donations at $5,000 for statewide races and $3,000 for local
Like English for the Children, the campaign-finance initiative addresses a popular theme
that politicians have been unable or unwilling to tackle. Also like 227, the
initiative has been carefully written by Unz to withstand the type of court challenges
that struck down recent campaign-reform initiatives.
Shirley Grindle, an Orange County campaign-finance reform activist, opposes the new
proposition because, she said, the $3,000 local contribution cap is too high. "But I don't
fault Mr. Unz for having an initiative that 99 percent of the voters won't read and that
probably will pass."
- Copyright 1999 The Orange County Register