Capitol Alert

Bilingual education measure has broad support from California voters

Sen. Ricardo Lara reflects on benefits of his bilingualism

An advocate of bilingual education who went through it himself, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, is pursuing Proposition 58 this fall that would reverse a 1998 California law mandating English-only instruction for English learners.
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An advocate of bilingual education who went through it himself, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, is pursuing Proposition 58 this fall that would reverse a 1998 California law mandating English-only instruction for English learners.

An initiative to remove long-standing restrictions to bilingual education in California appears poised to pass in November.

A new Field/IGS Poll of likely voters found 69 percent support Proposition 58, which would reverse a mandate to teach English learners in English-only classes, and make it easier for schools to start bilingual programs, while just 14 percent are opposed. The broad support crosses party and racial lines.

Proposition 58 is a rebuttal to another measure approved by voters nearly 20 years ago: Proposition 227. The 1998 initiative instituted a requirement that school districts ensure students achieve English-language proficiency by instructing them in English only, rather than in the bilingual programs long favored by many educators, which taught students primarily in their native language while they gradually picked up enough English to enter mainstream classes.

 

When that fact, which is not included in the ballot summary voters will see, was mentioned to a sample of poll respondents, approval for Proposition 58 plummeted, particularly among Republicans. Only 30 percent said they were inclined to vote for the measure, while 51 percent would reject it, though support remained higher among Latinos.

“When you’re a voter, you don’t know that you’re overriding a previous initiative passed by voters,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said. “There’s a lot less instinctive support.”

Another sample of respondents was read arguments for and against Proposition 58. While opponents say it will return English learners to an ineffective system that kept them from acquiring proficient English, proponents aim to expand dual immersion programs that combine native speakers of English and a foreign language for instruction and fluency in both.

Under that scenario, likely voters split almost evenly, 39 percent in support and 41 percent opposed.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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