Education Official Is Targeted

Times Staff Writers

A senior member of the state Board of Education who has advocated English-language reading instruction for immigrant children could lose his position on Wednesday amid a furor raised by bilingual education advocates.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Democratic political donor Reed Hastings was appointed to the state education board by former Gov. Gray Davis in 2000. He was reappointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last January, but must be confirmed this week by the state Senate.

On Wednesday, Hastings is scheduled to appear before the Senate Rules Committee, where he must gain three of five votes before his confirmation reaches the full Senate. But a powerful Latino lawmaker and vocal groups including the California Assn. for Bilingual Education have mounted a campaign to kill his confirmation.


They complain that Hastings -- who founded Netflix, the movie mail-order rental service -- has shown insensitivity to the needs of immigrants, primarily Spanish-speaking students.

While Hastings was president of the state board, he and his colleagues adopted a policy that required elementary schools to teach students 2 1/2 hours a day in English to qualify for special federal reading funds. A subsequent law overrode the state board policy, making the funds available to bilingual classrooms where students were learning in Spanish.

California law requires elementary school students to be taught in English, the result of Proposition 227, approved by voters in 1998. But parents can request bilingual education, and about 120,000 students in kindergarten through fourth grade attend such programs.

Still, state Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier), who chairs the Latino legislators’ caucus, and the leaders of bilingual education organizations said the board policy unfairly denied resources to children in bilingual programs. The critics also complained that Hastings didn’t do enough to make appropriate instructional materials available to Spanish speakers.

“Reed Hastings and the state board haven’t done the right thing for English-language learners,” Escutia said.

Hastings said the state board adopted the 2 1/2 -hour English instruction policy in mid-2003 because the federal reading program -- known as Reading First -- required students to become proficient in California’s English language arts standards by third grade. He also said that the state board was the first in the country, in 2001, to require mainstream textbooks to include specialized instruction for students still learning English.


“Our efforts to ensure that students in bilingual education get half the day in English have been misunderstood to be an attack on bilingual ed,” Hastings said. “In fact, we have been trying to ensure that students also master English. We believe it to be good policy.”

Hastings isn’t the only state board member potentially facing an uphill confirmation fight. Schwarzenegger’s closest advisor, Democrat Bonnie Reiss, also may be targeted in the Senate by lawmakers angry over Schwarzenegger’s veto of a measure that would have allowed undocumented workers to receive driver’s licenses and his reneging on an education budget deal that will strip schools of more than $2 billion they are owed.

Reiss and five other state board appointees were scheduled to appear with Hastings before the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday. But the six other confirmation hearings were postponed until next month.

Administration officials would not comment on the postponements, saying the schedule is set by the committee. But a Schwarzenegger spokeswoman expressed confidence in Reiss and Hastings.

“The governor’s office will be fully and actively supporting all of the governor’s school board nominees,” said spokeswoman Ashley Snee.

Hastings enjoys significant backing among Sacramento’s education establishment.

Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, who has been lobbying lawmakers on Hastings’ behalf, said Hastings helped keep the state board focused on many important reforms, including testing and school accountability systems, during the three years he served as board president.


“He’s been a champion for public education,” O’Connell said. “He’s articulate, effective and incredibly bright.”

But Hastings’ prospects appear grim because of a desire to keep peace in the Senate, where Escutia is a powerful figure who narrowly missed the votes to be chosen Senate president pro tem this year.

“He’s a victim of an imperfect storm,” said Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), the majority leader. “We’re not going to start [the session] with a battle for a nominee who is not even strongly backed by the administration. At the end of the day, if Arnold wants this appointee, then to a large extent he’s got to move it.”

If Hastings makes it to the Senate floor, he will need 27 out of 40 votes -- something Senate vote counters said last week he lacked.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland), chairman of the Rules Committee, said he will not allow a vote on the Senate floor unless he has the votes for confirmation.

“This could easily deteriorate into an ideological clash on the floor that would have absolutely nothing to do with his qualifications on the Board of Education,” Perata said.


Still, Perata praised Hastings, saying: “I think Reed Hastings is a guy you want in a public position. He’s put his money where his values are, he speaks his mind, he’s willing to engage.”

Hastings’ confirmation has also drawn fire from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. over his support for Proposition 39, the 2000 ballot measure that made it easier for school districts to approve school construction bonds.