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Romney hits softening of bilingual law
Says override by legislators was 'arrogance'
Boston Globe

By Anand Vaishnav

Governor Mitt Romney yesterday chastised the Legislature for loosening the state's new voter-approved English immersion law, branding it an act of ''unfathomable arrogance'' and vowing to oust legislators who backed the move.

Romney, who frequently touted his support of English immersion during last year's campaign, blasted the Legislature's exemption of some schoolchildren from the law as a capitulation to ''special interests,'' including teachers' unions. About 68 percent of Massachusetts voters last year approved the ballot initiative, Question 2, which required that immigrant students be placed in all-English classes instead of bilingual programs. But the Legislature on Monday voted to exempt some provisions of the new law, including ''two-way'' programs, a form of bilingual education in which students of different cultures learn each other's languages

''English immersion passed by an overwhelming majority. To then create loopholes large enough that can be used to abuse that direction is wrong, and it is arrogant,'' Romney said. ''As a result of that, we're going to campaign hard to do everything possible to ensure that the people who are in the Legislature are individuals that will follow the will of the people, particularly when it's so clearly and visibly provided to all of us.''

Romney drew a distinction between his support of Question 2 and his opposition of the Clean Elections law, both of which voters had approved. He pointed to a nonbinding referendum last fall showing that 75 percent of voters opposed using taxpayer money for political campaigns, which Clean Elections permitted for candidates who abided by spending requirements. Because of that referendum, Romney said, he had no problem joining the Legislature in repealing the Clean Elections law, which voters approved in 1998.

Still, some Democratic lawmakers said it is Romney whose allegiance to voters' mandates is questionable. They pointed out that the governor had promised to remove a piece of Question 2 that lets parents sue teachers for not following English immersion.

Romney has acknowledged that he disapproved of the lawsuit provision, but said it remains intact. Instead, he supported regulations that make it difficult to sue teachers. Yesterday, he ordered Board of Education chairman James A. Peyser to monitor two-way programs to ensure that schools do not use them as a loophole to keep traditional bilingual classes in place. Question 2 permits two-way programs, but would have restricted participation by younger students, a hurdle that supporters say would kill the

''Governor Romney now says it violates the will of the voters to make far more minor changes,'' said state Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, a Cambridge Democrat. ''Governor `Both Ways' can't have it both ways.''

The Legislature also overrode Romney's veto of a measure letting kindergartners bypass immersion and, with extra help, go straight into mainstream classes. Also, the Legislature boosted state oversight of districts to monitor how well their limited-English students perform academically. Despite those moves, many of the state's 51,000 limited-English children still will be in English immersion classes this fall, educators predicted. Question 2 permits waivers that would let children stay in traditional bilingual education, in which students learn subjects in their native tongues while easing into English. But children younger than 10 face more hurdles to get waivers.

Bilingual education has emerged as one of the areas of deepest disagreement between Romney and legislative leaders. This week's testy exchanges promised that the battle to implement English immersion in Massachusetts has not abated, a year after a heated campaign over the merits of educating the state's 51,000 limited-English students. Question 2 was financed partly by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, who has led successful campaigns to overturn bilingual education in California and Arizona, but failed in

Romney vetoed the Legislature's exemption of two-way programs, but both houses overrode him on Monday, though they barely achieved the necessary two-thirds majority. The state Republican Party yesterday mocked the lawmakers who voted against the governor, saying they chose ''ego immersion over English immersion.''

State Representative Marie P. St. Fleur, cochairwoman of the Legislature's joint education committee, brushed off Romney's challenge to campaign against lawmakers. ''If we get trapped into making decisions on threats, then we have failed,'' said St. Fleur, a Dorchester Democrat.

Two-way programs exist in 11 public schools enrolling about 1,800 students. In such classes, English- and non-English-speakers learn one another's languages at the same time -- something many parents say they want in a world that increasingly demands global communication skills.

''My 6-year-old can read in Spanish and English, and so can all of his little friends. And they're 6,'' said Maria Jobin-Leeds, whose children attend the Amigos School, a two-way school in Cambridge. ''This is the best I can do for my kids.''

Romney and other immersion backers said they too want students to be bilingual, but that immigrant students should learn English first.

''The law itself is clear,'' said Lincoln Tamayo, former chairman of Unz's Massachusetts campaign. ''We don't want 30 percent Spanish, 50 percent Spanish, or whatever. It is full English immersion. This is diametrically opposed to what we voted for in November.''

Globe correspondent Steve Eder contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/16/2003. Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.