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The Oregon Ballot Initiative: Following the Money


I'll pass on to you some tidbits of news about the money behind an initiative set to be put on the Oregon ballot in November that would limit English-as-a-second-language classes or native-language instruction for English-learners to two years. See my earlier post on the initiative.

Erik Sorensen, a spokesman for Causa, an Oregon immigrant-rights group opposed to the initiative, sent some links to help me find this information. Causa is calling the ballot initiative an "anti-ESL instruction initiative." The Statesman Journal, published in Salem, Ore., has characterized it as "an initiative to end bilingual education." The terminology used in the initiative is confusing, but it appears to be putting a cap of two years on all kinds of specialized instruction for ELLs.

The initiative has been backed with at least $123,000 from Loren Parks, a wealthy medical manufacturer, according to a Sept. 11, 2007 Oregonian article. Some other funders for the initiative are listed here. There are a number of contributions listed from Democracy Direct, which Mr. Sorensen says is a signature-gathering operation run by Bill Sizemore, who registered the ballot initiative with the state concerning ELL instruction.

Mr. Sizemore, who once lost a campaign to become Oregon's governor, has run into some legal problems in how he funds ballot initiatives, according to a May 27 Associated Press article posted on the Web site of an Oregon T.V. station. The article says a judge found Mr. Sizemore in contempt of court because he violated an injunction against moving money around to fund initiative campaigns. The Northwest Labor Press gives additional information about Mr. Sizemore's legal troubles.

I placed a telephone call yesterday to Mr. Sizemore and Russell Walker, another man who registered the initiative with the state, to ask why they've gotten involved in trying to change Oregon statutes concerning the education of ELLs, but I haven't heard back from either of them yet.


Mary Ann,

Thanks for following-up on the money aspect of this, and not just leaving it at posting about the initiative itself...


I wait for responses from Mr. Sizemore and others regarding their motivations for such an initiative. I am also interested in learning what level of expertise they have on the topic. Thank you for following this story.

Hi everyone,

I just want to know if the policy makers really care about education in this country???

Don't they realize that investing money on providing English Language Learners all the bilingual and ESL instruction that they need is a long-term investment with the potential to generate high levels of return?

If we don't provide these students the means to acquire the English language and reach their highest potential in our society, the country is going to miss a potential skilled and educated workforce. Furthermore, it is insane to think that you can fully master all the four language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) in two years???

These policy makers have no idea how difficult it is to learn a second language. They should try it before they make it a law.

Kind regards,


Yes, policy makers DO care. And learning English shouldn't be the only priority in Oregon, according to a recent study titled the Oregon Roadmap to Language Excellence conducted at the University of Oregon's Center for Applied Second Language Studies. In the foreign language needs assessment portion of the Roadmap, Oregon companies, educational institutions and public sector interviewees revealed a desperate need for professionally proficient foreign language speaking employees.

In short, Sizemore's proposed initiative will make the state LESS competitive, and directly contradicts what companies in Oregon like IBM, Nike, Intel, CH2M Hill, Reagent's Healthcare, and many others have publicly stated they need: Oregon graduates with STRONG foreign language skills. Numerous experts agree that prolonged exposure to a language is the best way to create strong second language skills. Immersion language learning is one of the best, most cost-effective ways to cultivate these strong skills, something Sizemore seeks to do away with.

So, a strong argument can be made against Initiative 19 on the grounds of economic well-being alone, not to mention the academic, cognitive and cultural awareness benefits attendant to second language learning.

Again, policy makers not only care, they are attempting to do something about it. See the Center for Applied Second Language Studies webpage for details on the Roadmap: http://casls.uoregon.edu/roadmap/

Does anyone know where I could read the actual initiative?

Here's a link to the initiative:

Click on "text" after the heading "Subject."

Mary Ann Zehr
Learning the Language

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