Bilingual Bill Wins Narrow Assembly OK

Times Staff Writer

A proposal to extend bilingual education in public schools for another six years narrowly survived a partisan battle in the Assembly on Thursday before being sent on to the Senate.

United in their opposition to the bill by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), Republicans charged that the decade-old bilingual education system, which primarily serves Latino pupils, is a failure.

The measure went to an uncertain future in the Senate on a a 41-31 vote, the precise majority required in the 80-member Assembly. Senate Republicans say they hope to scuttle or drastically amend the proposal.

Fear of a Veto

Gov. George Deukmejian has not yet taken a position on the measure, gubernatorial aides said. Many Democrats, however, fear he may veto the bill if it reaches him.

Basically, the bilingual education law is intended to ensure that students are taught in a language they understand. The law requires school districts to offer bilingual instruction whenever 10 students of the same native language, other than English, are in a classroom.

Critics of the law, including many Republican lawmakers, contend that the existing law keeps children too long in their native language and does not advance them into English rapidly enough. The result, the Republicans charged Thursday, is a very high dropout rate among students most benefited by bilingual education.

"The present structure isn't bilingual, it's monolingual, and it's trapping children in a language ghetto," charged Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale.

Commission Recommendations

But Brown and other Democrats countered that a bipartisan study commission, chaired by Alice Petrossian, an administrator of bilingual programs in the Glendale school district and a Republican, recommended last year that the bilingual law be continued. Brown's bill contains most of the recommendations of the commission.

The existing bilingual education law does not expire until June, 1987. But if the Legislature waits until next year to extend the program, it will require "urgency" legislation, for which a two-thirds vote is needed in each house for passage.

Much of the debate centered on lack of proof that bilingual education is effective, a point that has been acknowledged by state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig and conceded by some of the Democrats.

But Democratic Leader Mike Roos of Los Angeles claimed there was "a shell of symbolism" involved with bilingual education. He explained that if the government did not continue the program, a negative message would be sent to the expanding number of non-English-speaking immigrants to California.

Molina's Experience

Assemblyman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles) noted that she was reared in a Spanish-speaking home and learned English in school by the "sink or swim" method, which she said greatly hindered her academic progress.

But Ernie Konnyu (R-Saratoga) countered that he came to California from Hungary as a 12-year-old non-English speaker and learned the language without bilingual education. "If you think of it, many people who come here don't get bilingual education, the Italians, the Polish, the Czechs, the Germans. . . . It is really for one or two or three major language groups."

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