SACRAMENTO — An initiative that rolled back bilingual education, Proposition 227, will provide an unexpected $100 million windfall in the state budget next year for a little-known new program to teach adult tutors English.
It’s one of the largest increases for any school program in the shortfall-driven budget proposed by Gov. Gray Davis, and some state officials wonder if the pot of money could be stretched to include teacher development and classroom instruction for students learning English.
But Ron Unz, the wealthy Silicon Valley businessman who wrote and sponsored Proposition 227, says the money should be spent as directed by the initiative, at least until the backlog of adults seeking English-language instruction is eliminated.
Proposition 227 requires that $50 million a year for 10 years be spent on English language instruction for parents and others who pledge to help tutor school children learning English. The amount will be doubled to $100 million in the new budget to make up for money not spent in the first year.
State officials have speculated about whether part of the Proposition 227 funds can be creatively used to strengthen instruction for students learning English in the classroom, where some think the dollars might be more effectively spent.
“It could be that those adult programs could be used to train tutors that already speak English,” said Henry Der, a deputy of Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. “The initiative doesn’t say the adults have to be non-English speakers.”
Davis has asked Eastin and the chancellors of the University of California, California State University, and the community colleges to give him a report by early March on successful strategies for teaching English learners and implementing Proposition 227.
The report is expected to include recommendations for spending the adult tutoring money. But a Davis administration official said it’s unlikely that the Proposition 227 funds will be used to train teachers or assistants who already speak English.
“You wouldn’t need additional language instruction if you already know English,” said Susan Burr, the undersecretary for Gary Hart, the Davis education secretary.
Davis’ new state budget, limited by a $2.3 billion shortfall, still manages to scrape together $60 million to aid students who are learning English. The plan is to spend $50 million on after-school and summer programs for students and $10 million on teacher development.
But the amount proposed by Davis for students is overshadowed by the $100 million available for adult tutors next year under Proposition 227.
Because the initiative was approved on June 2 of last year, with only a few weeks remaining before the new fiscal year began July 1, no money was spent on adult tutoring during the first year the initiative was in effect.
As a result, state officials have decided to carry forward the $50 million from Proposition 227’s first year and spend it in the fiscal year beginning next July, which brings the total available for adult tutoring in the new state budget to $100 million.
The Davis budget says the $60 million to aid students is “intended to be used in concert with” the Proposition 227 money for adult tutors.
“We want to make sure that this $60 million for student instruction and teacher development is integrated with the (Proposition 227) expenditure,” Burr said.
Unz said that once the backlog of adults seeking English language instruction is eliminated some of the Proposition 227 money might be redirected to students in the classroom.
“Because the money is fungible, you can sort of move it around,” he said.
For example, said Unz, Proposition 227 funds could be used to replace money now being spent on adult education programs for English learners, allowing those funds to be spent on classroom instruction for students.
Of the $544 million being spent by schools on adult education outside of Proposition 227, $195 million is for ESL programs (English as a Second Language) that help adults learn English.
The new wrinkle in the additional Proposition 227 funding is that “parents or other members of the community” who take the tutoring classes must sign a pledge to help school children learn English.
Proposition 227 requires schools, unless they receive waivers, to end the bilingual education programs that taught students mainly in their native language for up to seven years.
The initiative puts English learners in special “sheltered immersion” classes taught mainly in English, normally lasting about a year before the student is moved into mainstream classes. Unz said students will bringhome books and materials in English.
“Now it puts pressure on the parents to learn English so they can help their children with the homework,” he said.
The initiative says the adult tutoring program is intended to support children learning English by raising the general level of English language knowledge in the community. The program is off to a slow and uneven start.
The $50 million appropriated this year will be distributed to school districts based on the number of their students classified as English Language Learners (formerly called Limited English Proficient).
At first, the state estimated that the payment would be $60 per English learner, because some districts might not apply. But after a deadline was extended last fall, the total number of school districts applying for Proposition 227 funds grew to more than 450.
The districts that applied have all but about 100,000 of the 1.4 million students classified as English learners, who are a quarter of the enrollment in the California public school system from kindergarten through high school.
Now the payment per pupil from the Proposition 227 funds is expected to be about $38, said Der of the state Department of Education.
The San Diego Unified School District, which will receive about $1.4 million in Proposition 227 funds, quickly launched a joint program last August with San Diego Community College.
The college provides the instructors, and San Diego Unified provides the classroom, instructional materials and child care. Parents can rotate through kindergarten or after-school classes with their child, and they also are shown how to work with the child at home.
“We really think we have a model,” said Ricki Martinez, San Diego Unified adult programs administrator. “The two districts (school and community college) have a long history of being able to work well together.”
Martinez said 373 parents and community members have enrolled in the program, offered at 11 centers now with more on the way. About 40,000 of the 138,000 students at San Diego Unified are classified as English learners.
At Chula Vista Elementary School District, where a third of the 21,000 students are English learners, administrators have been meeting with parents as they plan to launch an adult tutoring program soon.
The district is thinking about blending the adult program into after-school programs for students. Some enthusiastic parents have suggested innovative ways to learn English at home with their children: singing, chanting and acting out little dramas from everyday life.
“They indicated not only that they wanted to learn English, but they had great ideas about how they might learn English as a family,” said Dennis Doyle, Chula Vista Elementary assistant superintendent.