Original URL: http://www.washtimes.com/national/20020930-37381417.htm

GOP not supporting English measures
By Valerie Richardson
September 30, 2002

DENVER Voters are embracing the anti-bilingual-education initiative on the November ballot in Colorado and Massachusetts. The question is, why won't Republicans?

Fearful of alienating Hispanic voters, Colorado Republicans are either ducking the issue or coming out against it. In Massachusetts, Mitt Romney is the rare Republican candidate who
supports the measure.

The initiatives, pushed onto the ballot by Silicon Valley software millionaire Ron Unz, would replace bilingual education with one-year English-immersion classes, after which students would move on to regular courses. Polls show the initiatives garnering more than 65
percent of the vote in both states.

Even so, the list of opponents reads like a political who's who: Democratic lawmakers, teachers unions and school boards.

Mr. Unz knows most Republicans are afraid that supporting English instruction would provoke a backlash from the growing Hispanic population.

"They're absolutely scared to death," Mr. Unz said. "[But] it would be awfully nice if some Republicans would stand up for what Republicans have been saying all these years."

Not that he didn't expect this. Four years after starting English for the Children from his Palo Alto, Calif., home, Mr. Unz knows the drill.

First, he spends big bucks to gather enough signatures to put his measure on the ballot. He watches as the opposition racks up endorsements, contributions, advertising and volunteers.

In the end, it doesn't matter. On Election Day, his initiative wins by a landslide. That's how it happened in California in 1998 and two years later in Arizona, and that's how the scenario is playing out this year in Colorado and Massachusetts with one big exception.

For the first time, the anti-bilingual-education measure actually has a big-name Republican supporter, and in Massachusetts of all places.

While Republican candidates in conservative Colorado refuse to jump on the anti-bilingual bandwagon, in liberal Massachusetts Mr. Romney is gambling that the Unz initiative's rising tide will help lift him into office.

Mr. Romney, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, hasnot only endorsed the measure, known as Question 2, buthe's also made it a centerpiece of his campaign. In an ad introduced last week, Mr. Romney pledges to "end the failed idea of bilingual education in our schools and teach childrenEnglish instead."

Under Question 2, all nonnative limited-English speakers would be placed in one-year "sheltered immersion" classes, in which they would receive instruction only in English.
Previously, students received "transitional bilingual education" for up to three years, in which they learned English but were taught other subjects in their native tongue.

Mr. Romney's only quibble is that Question 2 would allow parents to sue teachers who don't speak in English in the classroom, a provision he calls too punitive. If elected, he said he would work with the legislature to remove that clause.

His Democratic opponent, state treasurer Shannon O'Brien, has blasted Question 2 as a "one size fits all" solution. In a Thursday editorial, the Boston Globe called the measure "the only substantive issue on which [the candidates] disagreed" in a recent debate.

In Colorado, where the proposal goes by the name Amendment 31, Democratic candidates are opposing the measure, while Republican candidates are either remaining steadfastly neutral or "studying" the question.

This, despite a July survey by Ciruli Associates, a Denver-based polling firm, showing 66 percent of the voters in favor of the measure and just 29 percent against it.

Analysts say that Colorado Republicans, engaged in an aggressive Hispanic-outreach effort, worry that their support could jeopardize their status with Hispanics, who make up 17
percent of the state. There's also a sense that there's little to be gained from taking a potentially explosive position.

"Anybody in public office tends to stay away from these referendums," said Paul Talmey, president of Talmey-Drake Research and Strategy Inc. in Denver. "Some of their supporters are obviously going to be for it and some against it, so why risk alienating any of them?"

Mr. Unz says he's disappointed by the lack of political support, especially in light of the data from California. Two years after Proposition 227 passed in 1998, the reading scores of limited-English second-graders rose nine percentage points and the math scores 14 points, turning some of the initiative's staunchest critics into converts.

He also points to a November 2000 Zogby poll showing that 71 percent of Hispanics nationwide support dismantling bilingual-education programs in favor of English immersion.

Critics argue that it's still too soon to draw conclusions from California's English-only experience. They also point out that most limited-English students in Colorado are already
taught in English.

"I think we should ask Ron what happens in the second year of his sheltered immersion if a child isn't ready and is sent with no additional support to the regular classroom," said
Colorado Board of Education member Gully Stanford.

Few expected the Unz initiative to find its way into more  states in two years. And if this year's measure passes in Massachusetts, look for Mr. Unz to bring his crusade to the
federal level.

"If this wins in Massachusetts, which is such an incredibly Democratic state and very liberal, and carries into office a Republican governor, I'd look to see this in Congress," Mr.
Unz said. into office a Republican governor, I'd look to see this in Congress," Mr. Unz said.


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