Prop 58 aims to restore bilingual education options and local control

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Proposition 58, titled “California Education for a Global Economy Initiative,” seeks to provide California students bilingual education in ballotEnglish, and one or more other languages in order to equip them to function more productively in an increasingly multilingual and multilateral world economy.

The authors of the proposition posit that students for whom English is not their native language are more quickly equipped to navigate a broad curriculum of subjects when their English instruction is gained through teaching in a flexible and extended bilingual framework. English learners make up 22 percent of all public-school students in California. Schools statistics show that 2.7 million California public-school students in elementary and secondary grades speak a language other than English at home.

In 1998, California voters passed Prop 227 that required English learners be taught in English only, generally for one year of intensive English study, before transitioning these students into other subjects taught only in English, such as math and science. Prop 227 restricted the use of bilingual programs.

Prop 58 repeals key provisions of Prop 227 and adds a few new provisions regarding English-language instruction. Under the initiative, schools would no longer be required to teach English learners in English-only programs. Instead, schools could teach their English learners using various programs, including “dual-language immersion” programs in a variety of languages — not just Spanish. Schools can also adopt other language-instruction methods based on research and stakeholder input. Also, parents of English learners would no longer need to sign waivers before their children could enroll in bilingual programs.

Prop 58 restores control over how to teach English learners to local school boards, allowing them, in consultation with parents of English-learning students, to choose educational options that best suit their children. The initiative also allows the state Legislature to adjust the program to improve its effectiveness, should research and results so recommend, by majority vote rather than the current two-thirds vote mandated under Prop 227.

Proponents note that Prop 58 was placed on the ballot by a bipartisan vote of the California Legislature and is broadly supported by school boards (California School Boards Association), teachers (California Federation of Teachers, California Teachers Association and the California Language Teachers Association), and parents (California State PTA). Other supporters include the California Democratic and Peace and Freedom parties, California Chamber of Commerce, California Labor Federation and California Professional Firefighters.

Opponents argue that the initiative repeals the requirement that California children be taught in an English-only environment. They also object to a provision that would allow the state Legislature to adjust the program to improve its effectiveness by majority vote.

The measure has broad financial backing and is far ahead in the polls (mid-September field poll 69 percent to 14 percent with 17 percent undecided). Supporting political action committees have raised $1.2 million. There are currently no PACs registered in opposition.

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