California repeals law that limited bilingual education

November 9, 2016 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly repealed a nearly two-decade-old law that limited bilingual education in public schools.

Proposition 58 had about 73 percent support with 3.2 million votes counted.

The measure undoes a 1998 law requiring schools to use English immersion for most students not fluent in the language.

Supporters said the old law was tinged with racism and that letting English learners study in two languages alongside English speakers helps both groups better prepare for work in a global economy.

Opponents said forcing students to learn English quickly is beneficial and that the state’s 1.4 million English learners had fared better in school since Proposition 227 was passed nearly 20 years ago.

Proponents say the new measure will help expand so-called dual language immersion programs that mix English speakers and learners in the classroom and teach both groups two languages.

There are already a few hundred of these programs in the state. But parents of English learners must sign a waiver every year for their children to participate, which educators say makes it hard to get programs started even as interest in learning Spanish, Mandarin and other languages has soared in California and elsewhere.

Proposition 58 was proposed in the Legislature by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat. It required voter approval because it alters a previous ballot measure approved by voters.

The state Democratic Party, California Teachers Association and California Chamber of Commerce supported the measure. Opponents included the state Republican Party and businessman Ron Unz, who sponsored the 1998 initiative amid a backlash to a rise in immigration in California.

Before 1998, about 30 percent of English learners were taught in bilingual programs, which varied in structure and were often comprised solely of English learners.

Since then, the state’s demographics have changed and Latinos now comprise 39 percent of the population, more than any other group. California is among more than 20 states that offer a seal of biliteracy to high school graduates who master more than one language.