Though advocates of bilingual education still groan when they hear his name, it’s been several years since Ron K. Unz, a California businessman, stepped away from the national debate on how best to educate English-language learners. Before Mr. Unz’s withdrawal, he financed campaigns that succeeded in getting voters in Arizona, California, and Massachusetts to approve ballot initiatives to curtail bilingual education in those states. He financed a similar campaign in Colorado as well, but lost that one.
Now supporters of an initiative to curtail bilingual education in Oregon have succeeded in gathering enough signatures to have it put on the ballot in November, according to Oregon election officials (I just wrote a story for edweek.org about this). The initiative prohibits schools from providing instruction to a student in his or her native language for more than two years. It also limits the amount of time to two years that ELLs can spend in “English-immersion programs,” but it doesn’t define what it means by such programs. Children who enter school in kindergarten through 4th grade can be in English-immersion programs for only one year, according to the initiative.
Mr. Unz doesn’t seem to be in the picture in Oregon. But someone named Bill Sizemore is very much in the picture. He, and two other men, registered the initiative for ELLs with the Oregon secretary of state’s office. A June 18 Statesman Journal article calls Mr. Sizemore “a onetime-prolific petition writer” who ran for governor of Oregon in 1998 and lost to the Democratic candidate, John Kitzhaber. Russell Walker, another person who registered the initiative with the state, is the state director of Freedom Works.
A coalition of immigrant- and refugee-rights groups in Oregon have formed a coalition to fight the initiative. A group called Causa is part of that coalition.
This all brings back memories of the debates over the Unz initiatives from 1998 to 2002. The next task I’ve assigned to myself in covering this story? Follow the money.
Update: A June 18 Oregonian article tells about the initiative.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.