Original URL: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/election/article/0,1299,DRMN_36_1526669,00.html
Mass. voters approve bilingual education question
By The Associated Press
November 5, 2002
BOSTON - Voters said "adios" to the state's bilingual education
law today, replacing it with a controversial initiative that
mandates a one-year English immersion program.
Question 2 gives nonnative English speakers one year to learn
English before they are moved into regular classes. Current law
allows for up to three years.
Coloradans voted on a similar measure, Amendment 31, on
"I would hope that a big victory in a state like Massachusetts
would help galvanize this as a national issue," said California
businessman Ron Unz, who funded the initiative and a similar
question on Colorado's ballot.
The initiative requires students to be taught all classes in English.
A teacher could use a student's native language only to help
explain a complex theory. Students would then be tested in
It allows parents to sue teachers, administrators and school
committee members personally for violating the law and teaching
in a native language. In recent years, voters in Arizona and
California passed similar measures, also backed by Unz. No one
has been sued so far, he said.
Lawmakers concerned about the ballot initiative this summer
revamped bilingual education by giving schools more choices in
programs, but with strict state oversight. The goal was two years
and out, with a third year if necessary.
Currently, districts must provide a bilingual program for any 20 or
more enrolled children of the same language who cannot do
ordinary class work in English, or whose parents do not speak
English. They are taught in both the native language and English;
and taught the history of both the native land of the child's
parents and the United States.
Republican Mitt Romany made English immersion a cornerstone of
his gubernatorial campaign. Democrat Shannon O'Brien opposed
Statewide, 29,000 students are in bilingual education programs
and another 11,000 take English-as-a-second-language courses.
Edward Rurak, a 78-year-old retiree from Haverhill, said he voted
"I believe that when my parents came here from the old country
they had to learn all English," said Rurak, whose family was from
Poland. "I don't think we should cater."
But Jovita Fontanez, of Boston, said it's too strict. The native
Puerto Rican learned to speak English while attending Boston
schools in the mid-1950s, before the state created bilingual
Massachusetts was the first state to pass a bilingual education
law 31 years ago.
"If I had English immersion in one year, I'd probably be out on
Washington Street with a tin cup," Fontanez said, referring to a
Unz, a millionaire software entrepreneur, says bilingual education
traps foreign-born students in programs that hold them back
while classmates progress. Opponents said a "one size fits all"
approach will backfire.
"Some kids _ they just don't learn as much if it's not broken down
for them in such a way they can understand," said Jamie Landry, a
27-year-old state youth services worker who voted against the
Unz and his California-based English for the Children donated
most of the $442,000 raised to support the question. The
Committee for Fairness to Children and Teachers, which opposed
the question, raised $200,000.
"Educating the voters about a very complex educational issue is
not easy," said Daniel Navisky, spokesman for the opposition
committee. "It's really difficult for people to understand what any
ballot initiative is about."
In Lawrence, 19 percent of students are enrolled in bilingual
programs, the highest percentage in the state, followed by
Holyoke (17.8 percent), Somerville (17 percent), Boston (14.4
percent), Framingham (14 percent), Chelsea (13.5 percent), and
Lowell (11 percent), according to state figures. More than 300
districts have no bilingual education programs. Spanish is the
most-spoken foreign language in bilingual education programs.
Opponents say the question will cost taxpayers about $125
million. Boston school officials last week estimated the switch to
English immersion would cost $31 million in training and new
textbooks over the next two years.
But Lincoln Tamayo, lead supporter of the question in
Massachusetts, said it's as expensive to buy textbooks in other
languages as it is to buy English-language materials.
"That's not an additional cost - that's refocusing resources," said
Tamayo, a former principal of Chelsea High School.