It would be a shame if South Bay Union School District’s innovative bilingual charter program had to shut down. But the most important matter is that the district continue bilingual education for all children who need it and whose parents want it for them.

South Bay administrators have pledged to do just that.

Following passage in 1998 of the badly flawed Proposition 227, a broadside fusillade aimed at bilingual education, South Bay Union instituted a bilingual charter program that any of its 10,000 students could join. It wasn’t a separate building, like most charter schools. Instead, it encompassed 3,800 non-English-speaking students in the district’s 12 schools.

Educators who founded the program made no excuses for the fact that it was an attempt to circumvent Proposition 227. That initiative allows bilingual education only if parents sign waivers every year and if students first receive 30 days of instruction in English (whether they understand it or not). South Bay educators thought that was silly and counter-productive, and they’re right. The charter program allowed kids to remain in the program without annual waivers and to forgo the one month of instruction in a language they didn’t understand. Most other districts simply knuckled under to Proposition 227.

Now, South Bay’s bilingual charter is under threat because of an arcane funding issue that could strip the district of nearly $2 million. It has to do with the district in 1999 changing its school year from July through June to September through August, delaying the opening of schools for two months.
So the state took away two months worth of funding. Because there’s a difference in the way charter schools and traditional schools are funded,
the district can only recover that money when the charter school closes.
South Bay Union officials say they can’t afford a nearly $2 million hit.

Of course, this funding problem is ridiculous. Our legislators should correct it. South Bay kids completed their 180-day school year in 1999 just like everybody else. But bureaucratic rules are just that; nobody said they have to make any sense.

South Bay Union School District should do everything it can to maintain its successful bilingual charter, and state lawmakers should help out. However,
a small district like South Bay Union, with a $65 million annual budget,
can’t afford to lose that much funding. If that money can’t be recovered any other way, the school board may be forced to disband the bilingual charter program. That would be unfortunate. But as long as the district remains committed to bilingual education for its 3,800 kids who need it, this change can be managed so it won’t be too onerous.

All those people who are philosophically opposed to bilingual education should take note that state test scores for non-English-speaking second-graders more than tripled following the first year of South Bay’s bilingual charter program. State laws such as Proposition 227 that try to micro-manage school districts are faulty. Bilingual education, when properly administered, works. And educators should continue to use it wherever it fits the needs of students.

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