SACRAMENTO—The Senate passed compromise legislation Monday that would revive the state’s bilingual education program while giving school districts and parents greater say in how non-English-speaking students are taught.

The bill by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) would resurrect California’s bilingual education program, which expired June 30 after Republicans and Democrats were unable to agree on a plan to extend it.

Major Modifications

However, because of a threat that Gov. George Deukmejian would veto the bill for the second year in a row, Brown agreed to major modifications in the bilingual education law, including giving school districts greater flexibility in the kinds of instruction they provide.

Senate approval of the bill by a 24-1 vote signaled that legislators on both sides of the issue were nearing agreement after nearly a month of private negotiations.

“I think it’s a reasonable accommodation of what we wanted from the beginning,” said Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) shortly before the vote. “I’m surprised, quite frankly, that the Speaker was willing to amend the bill to the degree he did.”

Seymour reported that Deukmejian, who last year vetoed an extension of the state program at the request of Republican legislators, is “close” to approving the latest proposal.

However, a Deukmejian spokesman said it was “too early” to say where the governor stands on the bill. Republicans in the Assembly, where the bill must go for final approval, said they still opposed the measure because it does not go far enough in giving school districts and parents more say in the program.

“There’s no reason to press forward on this thing until we get it all hammered out,” said Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier). While acknowledging that the changes in Brown’s bill represent “dramatic progress,” Hill said he would seek to send the measure to a two-house conference committee where the final disagreements can be worked out.

Under the state’s original bilingual education program, schools were required to provide instruction in students’ native language anytime there were 10 or more students in the same grade who spoke the same language other than English.

The goal of the program, which last year included 525,000 students, was to teach the students English as quickly as possible while keeping them from falling behind in other subjects.

Without the state program, school districts would operate under a federal bilingual education law, which is much less restrictive and allows for a variety of teaching methods. Before voting to approve Brown’s measure, the Senate adopted three amendments offered by the Speaker in an attempt to placate Republicans.

One amendment would greatly increase the number of experimental programs that school districts could operate, including English immersion, in which students are not taught in their native language.

Final Amendment

Brown also agreed to a provision requiring that schools give parents a choice of classes and get their permission before placing students in bilingual classes. Schools must obtain the written consent of at least 90% of the parents who have students in bilingual programs within 30 days of placing them in classes.

The final amendment proposed by Brown would eliminate a program under which teachers have been required to learn a second language in order to teach bilingual classes.

Instead, Brown’s bill would permit teachers not fluent in their students’ native language to teach with the assistance of a bilingual aide.

“We are trying to produce a result that achieves the saving of bilingual education,” Brown said in an interview. “They are not concessions. They are appropriate legislative compromises.”

Even with the amendments, Hill said Republicans find the federal law more acceptable than Brown’s proposal because it does not require that students receive instruction in their own language.

Hill, who has been in a strong negotiating position because of the governor’s willingness to veto Brown’s bill, said he would like to remove the requirement that bilingual instruction must be provided whenever there are 10 or more students in a grade who speak the same language other than English.

The Republican lawmaker also said he is not satisfied with requiring consent from only 90% of the parents whose children are in bilingual classes.

“I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t get 100%,” he said.

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