Proposition 58: English Proficiency. Multilingual Education.


The Question: 

Should state law be changed to eliminate the requirement that public schools teach English-learners only in English; to permit a variety of language acquisition programs; and to allow pupils to enroll in bilingual programs without a waiver?

The Situation: 

Federal case law, civil rights laws, and state law require pubic schools to teach all pupils English language skills and academic subjects.  In 2015-16, about 2.7 million California K-12 public school students did not speak English at home.  A little more than half of them (22% of all California students) were classified “English learners,” i.e. having limited English proficiency. 

Proposition 227, passed in 1998, imposed certain restrictions the way California public schools teach English learners: 1) Classroom instruction must be in English only; 2) special materials may be used to improve language skills and make instruction more understandable; 3) pupils receive special, intensive English instruction for just one year before moving into English-only classes; and 4) enrollment in a bilingual program requires a waiver signed by a parent. 

The state requires school districts and county offices of education to publish yearly plans describing the services they will provide for certain groups of students, including English learners.

The Proposal: 

Prop. 58 would repeal key provisions of Proposition 227 and add a few new provisions regarding English language instruction.  Prop. 58 would remove the requirement that English learners must be taught only in English. It would allow a variety of programs including bilingual instruction, none of which would require a parental waiver.  Community participation would be increased: the annual planning process would include soliciting input from parents and community members as to how English learners should be taught.  If parental requests for certain programs reached specified levels, the school would have to provide those programs to the extent possible. Removing the restrictions of Proposition 227 would mean that native English speakers would also be able to learn a language other than their home language.

This measure could be amended by a statute approved by a vote of the electorate, or by a majority vote of each house of the legislature and signed by the governor.

Fiscal Effect: 

State costs would not be notably changed by this measure.  Local school district costs would depend on program decisions, but new bilingual programs would not necessarily be more or less expensive overall than English-only programs.  In districts where many pupils are placed in bilingual programs, ongoing costs might go up. (Training, materials, class size, communicating with parents, and other factors.)

What a YES or NO Vote Means
A YES Vote Means: 

Public schools could more easily choose how to teach English learners, whether in English-only, bilingual, or other types of programs.

A NO Vote Means: 

Public schools would still be required to teach most English learners in English-only programs.

Support & Opposition
Supporters Say: 
  • Prop. 58 allows districts to meet local needs with greater flexibility.
  • Proposed programs must be evaluated objectively based on outcomes and research.
Opponents Say: 
  • Being surrounded by English speakers leads to faster English language acquisition.
  • Schools shouldn’t return to methods that haven’t worked.