SACRAMENTO — Legislation that would have revived the state's bilingual education program was vetoed Friday by Gov. George Deukmejian, despite a compromise designed to give school districts and parents greater say in the instruction of non-English-speaking students.
Although the bill by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) had widespread support among educators, Deukmejian vetoed the measure at the request of Assembly Republicans who favor giving school districts wide latitude in teaching students who are not fluent in English.
"In the absence of an agreement in the Legislature on more flexible guidelines for the program, I believe it is better to allow each school district to fashion its own," the Republican governor said in his veto message.
Deukmejian's veto for the second year in a row of legislation extending the bilingual program disappointed Brown and school officials, who accused the governor and Assembly Republicans of seeking to destroy bilingual education.
"The Assembly Republicans clearly have no interest in the children," said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, past president of the California Assn. for Bilingual Education. "Their whole agenda is to dismantle the program and deny services to children who want to learn English and participate in our American society."
The veto of the bilingual education measure came as Deukmejian acted on more than 80 bills sent to him by the Legislature before its summer recess. Among the bills he signed were a measure prohibiting local governments from imposing blanket bans on the sale of alcohol and gasoline at the same stores and a bill prohibiting most motorists from carrying dogs in the back of open trucks.
Supporters of the bilingual education bill, including several Republican senators, expressed concern that Deukmejian's veto of the bill will lead to confusion among many school officials this fall.
California's bilingual education law, which expired June 30, required schools to provide instruction in the students' native language whenever there were 10 or more students in a grade with a common primary language other than English. The goal of the program was to teach the students English while preventing them from falling behind in other subjects. Last year, about 525,000 pupils were enrolled in bilingual education programs around the state.
For the majority of young students, three years of bilingual instruction is sufficient to make them fluent enough in English to make the switch to a regular classroom, educators say.
Now, in the absence of a state law governing bilingual education, administrators will be bound only by less stringent federal law and court rulings that require schools to give special assistance to students who are not fluent in English.
As Deukmejian noted in his veto message, state funds will still be available for districts to operate bilingual education programs as they choose. Some districts, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, have said they will continue operating their program as they have in the past.
With his veto, the governor also refused to extend a group of other educational programs that were included in Brown's bill. Those programs were designed to aid children who are physically or mentally handicapped, children with reading disabilities, especially gifted or talented pupils, those from poor families and native Americans. The gifted and talented education program and the program for handicapped pupils will expire next year. The others ended June 30.
Brown called Deukmejian's veto "a slap in the faces of all those parents who want a better future for their children than they had."
"It is time for the parents of those children, as well as for other Californians who care about the quality and equality of education in our state, to reassess this governor's claims to be a friend of education," the Speaker said.
Supporters and opponents of Brown's bill said it may be possible to work out a compromise to revive the state's bilingual program when the Legislature returns Aug. 17 for four weeks.
However, backers of Brown's measure said they had already made major concessions in an attempt to satisfy Assembly Republicans. Further modifications may not be possible without gutting the program, they said.
In addition, both sides accused each other of failing to negotiate in good faith when Brown's bill passed the Legislature, presenting another potential obstacle to an agreement.
The compromise incorporated into Brown's bill would have given school districts far greater flexibility by allowing up to 70,000 students each year to be placed in experimental programs. These could include such Republican favorites as "English immersion," in which students are taught primarily in English.