Legislation that would have made sweeping changes to the state’s bilingual education system stalled Thursday in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, likely ending the measure’s chances of passage this year.
But the author of the bill, state Sen. Deirdre Alpert, D-Coronado, said she wasn’t ruling out an effort to revive the plan as part of a different bill before the Legislature’s scheduled recess next week. “We’re still just exploring our options. We’re not sure what we are going to do at this point,” Alpert said.
The bill, SB 6, was held in the Democratic-controlled appropriations panel. The next step for the Senate-passed measure would have been the Assembly floor.
Alpert and other supporters said the bill would have given school districts the freedom to design their own programs for the state’s 1.3 million children with limited English skills, while at the same time holding districts accountable for the students’ success. They said many students learning English now receive no special help at all.
But the bill faced strong resistance from many Latino legislators, bilingual educators and others. They worried the measure would have made it too easy for school districts to abandon traditional, first-language bilingual instruction programs, leaving students without the critical skills needed to master key subjects and make the transition to English successfully.
Much of state law governing bilingual education expired a decade ago, and the Legislature has struggled for years to write new rules.
Alpert said she was “very disappointed” with the committee’s action.
“I just think there is an emotional response by some people from the Latino caucus who feel that this is not the direction to go and are just not willing to have the bill heard by the full (Assembly) floor,” the senator said.
“There are just people, I think, who refuse to accept the fact that the status quo isn’t satisfactory,” she added.
But one Appropriations Committee member said he believes Alpert’s plan still needs work, particularly in the areas of assessing the needs of English-learning students and holding schools accountable for their progress.
“It wasn’t just Latinos who voted to hold it. It was a multiracial, multiethnic group of people,” said Assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa, D-Los Angeles.
“I think there is bipartisan support for revamping bilingual education. The issue really is how we do that and I think there is disagreement on how we proceed ahead,” added Villaraigosa, who credited Alpert for taking on a tough issue.
Alpert warned that California voters may soon be faced with a possible ballot initiative — being promoted by millionaire software developer Ron Unz — that would generally require public schools to teach classes only in English. “And here we have worked in the Legislature for three years to craft a sensible solution to what needs to happen with bilingual education,” Alpert said, adding that she opposes the Unz effort.
But state Sen. Hilda Solis, an El Monte Democrat who opposed the Alpert bill and had a rival bill that stalled in the Senate, said she doesn’t believe the Legislature’s failure to advance the Alpert plan would have any effect on the potential Unz initiative.