A landmark decision by the State Board of Education on Thursday will give local school districts more freedom to decide how to teach English to students who speak other languages.

The decision raises many questions:

Q. What did the state Board of Education do?

A. The board said local school districts no longer need to seek a waiver to change their programs for limited English students. That means districts no longer must abide by policies requiring instruction in languages other than English.

Q. What was the basis for the decision?

A. A ruling last week by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ronald B. Robie in a lawsuit filed against Orange Unified School District. Critics have threatened to appeal.

Q. What are the requirements for school districts with limited-English students now?

A. Federal law and court decisions require schools to provide limited-English speakers with funding, lessons and materials that enable them to progress academically.

Q. Will the decision change how English is taught in Orange County?

A. Not really. Only 13 percent of Orange County’s 134,000 limited-English students received instruction in Spanish last year. School leaders in Anaheim and Santa Ana, two districts with the largest populations of limited English students, said they have no plans to change. Statewide, 30 percent of the 1.4 million limited-English students are taught in Spanish or another foreign language.

Q. Will it affect Prop. 227, the English for the Children Initiative?

A. Observers disagree. Some say it undercuts the need for the initiative that would require almost all instruction to be in English and to end special classes for limited-English students after one year. Others say granting more local control will do nothing to prevent districts with strong pro-bilingual lobbies from keeping instruction in Spanish.

Q. Isn’t there a shortage of bilingual teachers anyway?

A. Last year, the state had 15,000 accredited bilingual teachers and 9,000 in training to fill gaps. Another 32,000 teachers had credentials to teach sheltered English while 28,000 were in training. Orange County had 6,000 teachers assigned to bilingual and sheltered-English programs last year, including 2,500 who were still working on accreditation.

Q. Will program changes affect funding?

A. No. School districts receive state and federal funding based on the number of students enrolled in programs for limited speakers of English,
not based on the type of program, said Estella Acosta, bilingual coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education.

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