I’ve got bad news for Californians who think they are on the verge of dismantling the state’s bilingual education establishment.

A ballot initiative with the appealing title “English for the Children” is receiving overwhelming support from a population fed up with the failures of bilingual education. Unfortunately, upon closer examination, the measure appears to be little more than a veiled, carefully crafted, back-door attack on propositions 187 and 209, which, respectively, banned taxpayer benefits for illegal aliens and government-sponsored racial preferences.

Promoted by Ron K. Unz, a conservative Republican millionaire who once challenged Gov. Pete Wilson in a dark-horse bid to deny him the GOP re-nomination, the initiative purports to favor English immersion programs over costly and ineffective teaching in students’ native languages — usually Spanish. However, there are some surprises in this measure — including one actually expanding bilingual education to local districts currently not offering such programs.

For instance, Article 3, Sections 310 and 311 of the initiative permits parents and legal guardians to secure waivers from the new English immersion programs for immigrant children who will have the option to be placed in bilingual programs — even where such programs don’t currently exist.

One of the other enticing reasons for opposing bilingual education — its high cost — is mitigated by language in the Unz initiative. Article 2, Section 305 states that, “As much as possible, current supplemental funding for English learners shall be maintained. …” Some estimates claim bilingual education costs California taxpayers as much as $4 billion a year. “English for the Children” specifically rejects the notion that any money can be saved.

How will the initiative undermine previous popular votes by Californians?

Proposition 187, vehemently opposed by Unz but supported by the majority of the state’s voters, forbid taxpayer dollars from being used to educate illegal immigrants. Interestingly, the Unz initiative states that the government has a moral and constitutional duty to educate “all of California’s children,” apparently regardless of citizenship or legal residency status.

Proposition 209 could also be challenged if the Unz initiative is passed. The measure would direct $500 million to members of certain ethnic communities, “community organizations,” or activist groups to conduct free English classes for adults. In the spirit of Proposition 209, shouldn’t such government spending be allocated without regard to racial or ethnic background?

A left-wing group called Hermandad Mexicana Nacional (Mexican National Brotherhood) was subsidized by California taxpayers to the tune of $2.1 million in 1997 despite the fact that the group was under investigation for financial irregularities and voter fraud. One-Stop Immigration, which actively campaigned against propositions 209 and 187, received $657,000 from the California Department of Education last year. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), whose leader, Jose Velez, was sent to prison in 1995 for running an illegal immigration scheme, likewise collected $79,000 from the state’s taxpayers for such education programs last year. Should such funding of overtly political groups be institutionalized by popular vote?

While some have described the Unz initiative as a “Trojan Horse,” its author makes little effort to hide his true agenda.

“I would hope that passage of this measure would help undo much of the social damage done to our state by passage of Prop. 187,” says Unz. In campaigning against 187, Unz called it “the most monstrous proposal that’s ever gotten on the ballot,” and predicted it would “turn California into one large prison camp, filled with (illegal alien) mothers.” He boasts about the fact that his measure would boost taxpayer funding for immigrant education by $50 million a year — hardly a conservative idea.

In an effort to curry favor and position himself as a friend of immigrants, Unz has resorted to the worst kind of name-calling against those who oppose “English for the Children.” He has compared conservative immigration reform groups to the Ku Klux Klan.

With the initiative currently experiencing broad support from Hispanics, Anglos, Democrats and Republicans, is opposing it a “lost cause”? Maybe. But while the Unz initiative is flying high in the polls right now, there’s still lots of time left before the June elections. Unz’s harsh rhetoric, ad hominem attacks against opponents, as well as the initiative’s own transparent shortcomings could well combine to bring this measure down — as it deserves to be brought down.

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