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Wilson Vetoes Bilingual Bill

Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed a bill Monday giving schools the freedom to select any approach to bilingual education, and endorsed a ballot initiative that would teach immigrant children almost exclusively in English.

"Bilingual education in California has been a serious failure," Wilson wrote in vetoing the bill. "(The bill) fails to provide much hope of improvement."

Under the current system, immigrant children are taught primarily in their first language, and English is gradually introduced.

The question on the June 2 ballot known as Proposition 227 requires schools to offer a one-year transition class for the state's 1.3 million "limited English-proficient" students. After that, the students would be placed in regular, English-speaking classes.

The bill Wilson vetoed would have allowed school districts to keep the current system, use the "English immersion" technique advocated by Proposition 227 or develop an approach of their own.

Wilson issued a separate statement announcing his support for Proposition 227, saying the education establishment had had its chance "and clearly failed."

But the backers of Proposition 227 were less than thrilled to have the support of the Republican governor.

Wilson alienated many immigrants with his support of Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot measure denying most social services to illegal immigrants. In contrast, recent polls find Proposition 227 is supported by about half of the Latino households surveyed.

"It is very unfortunate that the governor has chosen to endorse our initiative," said Ron Unz, author of Proposition 227.

Democratic Sen. Dede Alpert, who sponsored the vetoed bill, criticized Proposition 227 for imposing a one-size-fits-all solution for California, where schools recognize 55 languages and more dialects are spoken on playgrounds and in cafeterias.

"It would be sad for that initiative to pass because the Legislature and the governor have not done their jobs," she said.

Alpert's bill would have been largely superseded by Proposition 227. But if Proposition 227 were challenged in court and suspended, the bill would have taken effect.

By Rich Harris. 1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed