Governor Brown Places the Fate of the “California Education for a Global Economy Initiative” in the Hands of Voters

On September 28, 2014, Governor Brown signed into law SB 1174 (Lara), which will give voters an opportunity to rescind much of Proposition 227 (Prop 227), the 1998 initiative that replaced bilingual education with English immersion classes.  If passed, the new law will enable California’s public schools to provide multilingual instruction, granting more students access to valuable language skills and giving parents more choice over their children’s education.  In response to Governor Brown’s passage of SB 1174, Senator Ricardo Lara stated:

California parents will have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote to improve our state's educational system by removing barriers in achieving a world class, multilingual education … Children who participate in multilingual immersion programs not only outperform their peers in the long run, they also have higher earning potential when they enter the workforce.

To fully understand the impact SB 1174 would have on the California public school system, it is important to understand the history and current operation of Prop 227.

Current Law Under Prop 227
In 1998, California voters passed Prop 227, which added Education Code sections 300-340 prescribing the types of instruction for students that are Limited English Proficient (“LEP”), or English Learners (“EL”).  Education Code section 305 provides “all children in California public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English” and be placed in English language classrooms.  Prop 227 replaced a wide range of bilingual education programs with mandated placement of students in sheltered English immersion classes where “nearly all” instruction is in English, or in “English language classrooms” where “the language of instruction used by the teaching personnel is overwhelmingly in the English language.”  (Education Code section 306, subd. b.)

Under current law, parents may apply for a waiver to prevent their children from being placed in a sheltered English immersion program.  To obtain a waiver parents must personally visit the school site to provide informed written consent prior to the change in the student’s educational placement, and must renew the waiver annually.  (Education Code section 310.)  Waivers are available under three circumstances: (1) if the child already possess good English language skills, as measured by standardized tests; (2) if the child is age 10 or older and the school principal and education staff believe that an alternative course of educational study would be better suited to the child’s rapid acquisition of basic English language skills; and (3) if the child has special needs.  (Education Code section 311.)

In individual schools where 20 or more students receive the parental exception waiver, the school must offer a class where students are taught “English and other subjects through bilingual education techniques or other recognized educational methodologies.”  (Education Code section 310.)  However, the attempt to implement bilingual classes has been unsuccessful for a number of reasons, including when waiver requests are granted on a rolling basis throughout the school year and the 20th waiver is not granted until mid-year, or where there are 20 requests at a particular grade level but for different types of instruction.

The existing law includes specific enforcement and penalty provisions allowing parents or guardians to sue for enforcement.  (Education Code section 320.)  Parents or guardians may hold any school board member, elected official, or public school teacher or administrator who willfully and repeatedly refuses to provide an English language educational option personally liable for damages.

What Senate Bill 1174 Changes
SB 1174, which renames Prop 227 to “California Education for a Global Economy Initiative (California EdGE Initiative),” states its intent is to make it easier for parents and districts to offer multilingual programs, and to return local control to districts and parents to drive the educational model that works best for their children by making the following changes to current law:

SB 1174 adds the following:

•Need for multilingual employees

•Provide parents with choice of educating their children in English and one or more additional languages

•Provide opportunity for parental choice and voice regarding access to language programs that prepare their children to be more competitive in a global economy

•Encourage schools to mix other English learners from different native language groups for targeted language instruction

•Provide opportunities for monolingual English speaking students to be instructed to achieve proficiency in another language

SB 1174 removes the following:

•Language declaring that California’s public schools do a poor job of educating immigrant children and waste financial resources on experimental language programs

•Requirements that all children be taught in English, placed in English language classrooms, and if an EL be educated through sheltered English immersion temporarily for a period not to exceed one year

•Language regarding ELs being transferred to English language mainstream classrooms

•Language that requires parents to secure waivers to access bilingual instruction

•Language that authorizes a private right of action in the event a student is denied the option of an English language instructional curriculum

•Requirement that provisions be amended by statute that further the propositions purpose and are passed by a 2/3 vote of each house

What Voters Can Expect
SB 1174 will place an initiative on the November 2016 ballot.  If passed in November 2016, SB 1174 will alter the most noteworthy policies implemented by Prop 227: the sheltered English immersion requirement and parental waiver exceptions.  With the elimination of these two provisions, SB 1174 aims to make English learning a more localized initiative leaving the implementation and creation of programs in the hands of districts, parents, and communities.

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