The Golden State seems poised to repeal an 18-year-old restriction on bilingual education. Governing magazine reports:
As research shows the benefits of a bilingual education, dual-language immersion programs are becoming more popular and not just for English-language learners. But in California — which has the nation’s highest rate of students who speak a non-English language at home — getting a bilingual education is harder than in most states.
That could change in November, though, as voters have a chance to repeal a 1998 law that passed amid anti-immigrant fervor and severely limited access to bilingual education in the state. If approved, Prop. 58 would allow school districts to offer regular dual-language programs.
Among the mountain of ballot referenda Californians will face in November, including marijuana legalization and the death penalty, Prop. 58 might seem relatively unimportant. However, bilingual education in California has a fraught history, and the outcome of Prop. 58 will represent an important barometer for the state’s mood when it comes to multiculturalism. As Jason Willick and James Hitchcock note in a new TAI essay, the state’s 1998 restriction on bilingual education was part of a series of successful “nationalist” ballot referenda motivated by Californians’ concern about sustained levels of Mexican immigration.
Proponents of Prop. 58 argue that the measure “wouldn’t doom California back to the days when non-English-speaking students were languishing in Spanish-only classes,” but opponents, including the state’s withering Republican Party, argue that it represents an attempt to “fix” something that isn’t broken—some studies have shown that California’s existing rules for bilingual education boosted academic performance for non-English speakers. But the outcome of the measure will probably depend less on dueling arguments from education experts than on the changing cultural attitudes in a demographically transformed state.