Bill to Repeal English-Only Law Moves Toward Ballot

Sep 22nd, 2014 | By | Category: Advocacy, News
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Jeff Frost

By JEFF FROST

—SB 1174, authored by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), has quietly moved through the legislative process, has now passed both houses of the legislature, and is headed to the governor for final action. Should the governor sign the bill, it would result in a measure’s being placed on the 2016 statewide ballot that, if successful, would repeal the state’s “English-only” statutes, which were passed by the voters in 1998.

Proposition 227 required that English learners be taught “overwhelmingly in English” through sheltered/structured English immersion (SEI) programs during “a temporary transition period not normally intended to exceed one year,” and then transferred to mainstream English-language classrooms. While it was highly controversial at the time it did pass with 61 percent of the vote.

Views Have Changed in the Last Decade

In contrast to the highly charged political discourse in the 1990s on bilingual education, the debate surrounding SB 1174 has been subdued—and one-sided. There is very strong support for the provision of SB 1174 and a general sense that Proposition 227’s “English-only” approach should no longer be the policy or law of a state where being multilingual should be encouraged.

The bill has gotten broad support from CATESOL, CSBA, ACSA, CTA, and social justice groups, including the Education Trust West and the ACLU. Many education advocates cite the long-term benefits of bilingual or dual-immersion programs. They also note that there are higher levels of English proficiency and academic achievement among students in these programs than there are for students in English immersion programs. They argue that SB 1174 provides the flexibility for schools to more easily embrace multilingual educational programs.

SB 1174 amends and repeals various provisions of Proposition 227, including repealing the requirement that all children be taught English by being taught in English and instead allows school districts and county offices of education, in consultation with language experts in the field and parents, to determine the best language-instruction methods and language acquisition programs to implement. While many Republican legislators have quietly voted no on the bill, SB 1174 does have Republican legislative support. Senator Bob Huff, the Senate Republican leader, has not only voted for the bill but has spoken articulately about the need to embrace multilingualism as a state policy. Interestingly, the biggest concern expressed by Republican legislators is that SB 1174 would allow the legislature, through a majority vote, to alter the statute passed by the voters. Under current law, changes to the Proposition 227 statutes can be changed only with a two-thirds vote of the legislature.

What the Bill Actually Does

Along with repealing Proposition 227, SB 1174 would do the following:

  1. Establishes the California Education for a Global Economy Initiative (California Ed.G.E. Initiative) by renaming and amending the chapters relating to English Language Education for Immigrant Children, as established by Proposition 227.
  2. Removes the declarations that public schools of California currently do a poor job of educating immigrant children, that these children can easily acquire full fluency in a new language, such as English, if they are heavily exposed to that language in the classroom at an early age, and the declaration that suggests students be taught English as rapidly and effectively as possible.
  3. Makes findings and declarations relating to the importance and prevalence of multilingual and multiliterate persons as employees and citizens and recognizes the cognitive, economic, and long-term academic benefits of multilingualism and multiliteracy.
  4. Makes findings and declarations that address the desire of all parents to have their children master English and obtain a high-quality education so that all children will be able to fully participate in the American dream of economic and social advancement.
  5. Recognizes California’s opportunity to provide all parents with the choice to have their children educated to high standards in English and one or more additional languages and that parents now have the opportunity to participate in building innovative new language acquisition programs.
  6. Repeals the provisions of Proposition 227 that require all children in California public schools to be taught English by being taught in English, that children be placed in English language classrooms, and that children who are English learners be educated through sheltered English immersion during a temporary transition period until they are transitioned into English language mainstream classrooms.
  7. Requires school districts and county offices of education, as a part of developing their local control and accountability plans (LCAP), to solicit input on and provide to pupils effective and appropriate instructional methods for language acquisition programs. Requires a school district or county office of education, when establishing a language acquisition program, to consult with the proper school personnel, as specified. The language of the bill specifies that these requirements will ensure all pupils have access to the core academic content standards, including the English language development (ELD) standards, as applicable, and become proficient in English.
  8. Requires, at a minimum, school districts and county offices of education to provide English learners (ELs) with a structured English immersion program, as specified for the purpose of
    ensuring EL students have access to the core academic content standards, including the ELD standards, as applicable, and become proficient in English.
  9. Repeals the provision of Proposition 227 that permits schools to place in the same classroom ELs of different ages but whose degree of English proficiency is similar.
  10. Encourages local schools to provide opportunities for native English-speaking pupils, as defined, to be instructed in another language and specifies that the non-English language should be at the discretion of the parents, community, and school, depending upon the linguistic and financial resources of the school community.
  11. Deletes the definitions of “English language classroom,” “English language mainstream classroom,” “sheltered English immersion,” and “bilingual education/native language instruction.”
  12. Defines “English learner” to mean a pupil who is “limited English proficient” as defined in the No Child Left Behind Act and “Native Speaker of English” to mean a pupil who has learned and used English in his or her home from early childhood and for whom English has been his or her primary means of concept formation and communication in the home from early childhood.
  13. Defines “Language Acquisition Programs” as educational programs designed to ensure English acquisition as rapidly and effectively as possible and that provide instruction to pupils on the state-adopted academic content standards, including the ELD standards. This bill requires that the language acquisition programs provided to pupils pursuant to this section be informed by research and lead to a grade-level proficiency and academic achievement in both English and another language.
  14. Specifies that language acquisition programs may include dual-language immersion programs, transitional or developmental programs for ELs, and structured English immersion programs for ELs, as defined.
  15. Repeals the language relating to a parent or guardian’s right to waive the provisions of the English language guarantees under existing law and the circumstances under which such a waiver may be granted.
  16. Permits parents to choose the language acquisition model that best suits their child by requesting a specific language acquisition program, as specified, and then requires a school that receives requests on behalf of 20 pupils within any given grade or 30 or more pupils per school to offer that program to the extent possible.
  17. Repeals the language that gives the parents or guardians of a California school child who has been denied the option of an English language instructional curriculum in a public school legal standing to sue for enforcement of that right and makes a school board member or other elected official or public school teacher or administrator who willfully and repeatedly refuses to implement the terms of the statute personally liable for fees and actual damages.
  18. Changes the requirements for statutorily amending the provisions of this act by removing the requirement that any amendment be to further the act’s purpose and also changes the requirement that any such amendment be passed by a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature to a majority of each house of the legislature.
  19. Specifies that because sections of this bill amend or repeal provisions of Proposition 227, an initiative statute that was approved by the voters at the June 2, 1998, statewide primary election, these sections shall become effective on July 1, 2017, and only when submitted to, and approved by, the voters.

Tough Battle Could Lie Ahead

Sixteen years have brought numerous changes to California. The ethnic makeup of the state has changed dramatically and so have the politics and the Democratic control of the legislature and governor’s office. The Republican Party in California has been working hard to overcome its rigid “English-only” and anti-immigration past. But immigration and “bilingual education” remain hot-button issues. Assuming that Governor Brown signs SB 1174, the voters will still have to weigh in with support of the initiative in November of 2016. But the passage of SB 1174 is a very good start and reflects a change in attitudes on the value of our policies on language acquisition.

Jeff Frost is CATESOL’s legislative advocate.

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