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Clinton opposes proposition cutting bilingual education

Clinton administration officials, including the president, will travel to California to speak out against Proposition 227, a ballot measure that would dismantle the state's bilingual education programs.

Replacing a multiplicity of bilingual education programs with a one-year course of instruction taught mostly in English would leave schoolchildren without needed skills, including ones that will help them find jobs in the future, Marshall Smith, the Education Department's acting deputy secretary, said Monday.

"The best data that we have, the best research that we have suggests that the one-year immersion structure . . . is a major mistake," Smith said. "The movement under way in California is not based in sound policy or research."

Instead, the administration is calling for an alternative strategy _ setting the nationwide goal of limiting most children's participation in bilingual programs to three years. Clinton will speak out on the issue in California, but it was unclear whether he will do it during a trip there this weekend, a White House spokesman said.

Education Secretary Richard Riley said Proposition 227, also called the Unz Amendment, "is not the way to go."

"In my opinion, adoption of the Unz Amendment will lead to fewer children learning English and many children falling further behind in their studies," Riley said.

The three-year limitation would be a goal, not a requirement, Riley and Smith said.

California Gov. Pete Wilson said Monday he had not decided whether he favors the proposition. He accused Clinton of using the issue to play politics.

"I frankly think he has no business, I think the U.S. Department of Education has no business, substituting his judgment for that of the people of California," Wilson said.

Residents of California, where 55 different languages are officially recognized in schools, will vote June 2 on the proposition. Statewide polls show about 60 percent of voters support it, including about half the Hispanic voters polled.