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Effort underway to eliminate CA schools’ English-only law

Vanessa Romo | April 17, 2014

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Senator Ricardo Lara

Senator Ricardo Lara

Since the late 1990s the debate over bilingual education in California has been, ¿como se dice . . . controversial?  And it seems it’s an issue voters will be taking up again soon.

State Senator Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, has proposed new legislation to overturn Proposition 227, a 1998 initiative that banned bilingual education in public schools.

“English will always remain the official language of California, but we cannot ignore the growing need to have a multilingual workforce,” Lara said in announcing his measure.

Lara’s bill, SB1174, would put the question to voters once again, as an initiative on the November 2016 ballot. It would effectively repeal Prop. 227, giving parents the option of enrolling their children in bilingual education or dual immersion programs.

“In an increasingly interconnected global economy, we have to prepare our students for a future in which their success depends not only on an ability to understand diverse perspectives and cultures, but also on an ability to communicate in different languages,” said Lara.

As it’s written now, the law requires classes to be taught in English, with a few exceptions. Limited English-proficient students are given no more than a year to learn the language before transitioning into English-only classes. However, districts are required to offer bilingual classes if the parents of 20 students of a given grade at a school submit a waiver.

Still, since passage of Prop 227, enrollment in bilingual classes has plummeted to detrimental effects.

“Extensive research has shown that students who build strong biliteracy skills (in English and one or more other languages) have higher academic success, a foundation for increased salary earnings, and stronger cognitive skills as they grow older,” Jan Gustafson-Corea CEO of the California Association for Bilingual Education said in a press release supporting Lara’s bill.

But the Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz, who sponsored the 1998 initiative, says science is on his side. He told Capital Public Radio, early studies of the ban showed impressive results.

“In the first three or four years after Prop 227 passed, the academic performance of over a million immigrant students roughly doubled,” he says.

The Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing on SB 1174 on April 23.

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