SACRAMENTO—Legislation to revive the state’s bilingual education program was narrowly passed Wednesday by the Assembly and sent to the desk of Gov. George Deukmejian, where the measure faces an uncertain future.
The bill by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) would reauthorize California’s bilingual education program for another five years while giving school districts and parents greater say in the kind of instruction non-English-speaking students receive.
However, Deukmejian, who vetoed a similar bill by Brown last year, is under strong pressure from Assembly Republicans to reject the Speaker’s latest proposal. They argue that the legislation does not go far enough in giving school districts and parents control over local bilingual education programs.
Although Brown modified the bill this week in an attempt to appease its GOP critics, only one Republican, Assemblyman William Filante of Greenbrae, joined Democrats in voting for the measure. The Assembly approved the bill by a vote of 41 to 30, the bare minimum needed for passage.
“The governor will certainly give the bill a fresh look given that it was just recently amended,” said Kevin Brett, Deukmejian’s press secretary. “However, the governor will also take into account that the bill barely passed and that it had substantial opposition.”
The state’s bilingual education law, which required school districts to teach non-English-speaking students in their own language, expired June 30 after Deukmejian vetoed last year’s measure to extend the program.
Under the old law, schools were required to provide instruction in students’ native language any time there were 10 or more students in the same grade who spoke the same non-English language. The goal of the program, in which 525,000 pupils were enrolled last year, was to teach the students English while keeping them from falling behind in other subjects.
Without the state law, school districts would be bound only by federal law, which has far less fewer requirements than the old state law.
Some school districts, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, plan to continue operating the same bilingual education programs they have in the past.
But some state officials fear that without adoption of a new state law before classes begin in the fall, the lack of a comprehensive bilingual education program would result in many schools curtailing bilingual education. They also worry that it would lead to confusion over what school districts should provide and to lawsuits by parents who support bilingual education.
Brown’s bill would revive California’s program for another five years while making substantial changes in the way it works.
The bill would give school districts much greater flexibility in offering alternate programs, including the use of such teaching methods as English immersion, in which students are not taught in their own language, but are instead totally immersed in English instruction.
School districts would also have to notify parents about what classes are available and obtain the written consent of at least 90% of parents whose children are placed in bilingual education courses.
In addition, the measure would relax the requirement that teachers learn a second language and allow them to teach bilingual classes with the help of an aide who is fluent in the students’ language.
“This is a quality piece of legislation, which greatly enhances the opportunity for limited English-speaking students to gain the benefits of a solid education,” Brown said after the Assembly vote.
Last year, Deukmejian said he vetoed Brown’s bill to extend the program at the request of Republican members of the Assembly.
Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier), who has led the opposition, said GOP lawmakers would urge that Deukmejian veto the latest proposal.
“We’re not satisfied with any of the three areas of reform,” Hill said. “Willie has dealt with them but not to our satisfaction.”
In particular, Hill said he would like to eliminate the requirement that special language instruction be provided whenever there are 10 non-English-speaking students in the same grade. And he said he would like to see a requirement imposed that 100% of the parents, not just 90% of them, give their written consent to placement of their children in bilingual classes.
To some degree, Deukmejian is politically obligated to the Assembly Republicans because they stood with the governor on his budget proposal in the recent battle with Democratic lawmakers.
The Republicans have also refused to override any of Deukmejian’s vetoes throughout his tenure as governor, giving him a strong negotiating position when dealing with the Democratic majority in the Legislature.
“We will be requesting a veto,” said Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale, who met Tuesday with the governor and discussed Brown’s bilingual education bill. “We feel the governor will listen to us.”