Wilson Vetoes Richmond, Bilingual-Education Bills

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Gov. Pete Wilson of California has vetoed bills that would have revived the state's bilingual-education mandate and restructured the debt of the troubled Richmond school district.

The legislature, which had approved the measures before adjourning last month, returned to session late last week to deal with workers'-compensation issues. But members were not expected to attempt to override the vetoes.

The bilingual-education bill would have re-established, in modified form, a state statute that expired in 1987. Since then, California school districts have provided services to students of limited English proficiency under less explicit federal guidelines.

The vetoed bill would have required schools with 100 or more students speaking the same primary language to teach them in that tongue until they became familiar with English. Lesser services would have been required of schools with smaller language-minority groups.

Supporters had argued that specific state bilingual-education mandates were imperative in a state with so many students who speak little or no English. Spanish is the primary language of an estimated 750,000 California students, while more than 40,000 students are Vietnamese speakers, and groups of more than 20,000 primarily speak Cambodian, Hmong, and Cantonese.

In his veto message, however, Mr. Wilson complained that the bill limited school boards' flexibility in administering bilingual programs, did not have strong parental-notification provisions, and did not include a sunset date, thus reducing state oversight and review options.

Richmond Compromise Sought

The Richmond bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Bates, would have transferred several district properties to the state in exchange for an easier plan for repaying the district's debt. (See Education Week, Sept. 9, 1992.)

In his veto message, Mr. Wilson said the property transfer unfairly benefited the district.

Although the Governor vetoed the bill, sponsors of the plan said last week that they were continuing to work with the Governor's staff in hopes of finding a compromise.

One factor pressing for a solution is a lawsuit brought by Richmond parents charging that because the state is responsible for providing public education, it should pay off the district's debts. The state supreme court heard arguments in the case last week.

In addition, officials want to reassure creditors who had participated in a risky building-lease program with the district. The situation has brought considerable uncertainty to the state bond market.

The Governor "has never said that he was comfortable with what we were doing, but it is clear that his office cares about what is happening in Richmond,'' said Sherry Novick, a consultant to Assemblyman Bates.

Restructuring Funds Approved

In other action, the Governor signed an appropriations bill providing $24.5 million this year for school-restructuring demonstration projects. He had earlier vetoed the funds, along with about $500 million in general-fund aid for schools, in a dispute over wording in the legislature's long-delayed budget bill.

In another emergency session last month, lawmakers passed a bill correcting the disputed wording and also sending the restructuring appropriation back for a second try.

But the Governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed school districts to levy certain property taxes based on approval by a majority of local voters. Mr. Wilson cited the constitution's two-thirds approval margin for special-agency taxes, but added that he is sympathetic to the problems faced by districts.

In addition, the Governor vetoed legislation calling for a state takeover of the Compton school district because of academic deficiencies.

Mr. Wilson said the problems of the district should be addressed under another bill, which he did sign, providing for state intervention in low-performing districts. But he indicated he would consider stronger steps if the Compton schools do not improve. (See Education Week, Sept. 16, 1992.)

Vol. 12, Issue 06

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