Prop. 227 funds may help teach English to Adults

Little-known clause in June ballot initiative earmarks money for school tutoring programs for parents, so they could then help their kids with homework

Ventura County schools could soon start educating a more mature group of students–adults who don’t speak English fluently–through a little-known clause in the anti-bilingual-education Proposition 227.

County educators have until the end of the month to apply for upward of $ 1.5 million earmarked annually for the “community-based English tutoring” program created by the landmark ballot initiative. Approved by voters in June, the measure seeks to all but eliminate bilingual education in California classrooms.

Although local educators are not certain how they will spend the new money, they have planned a Monday meeting to discuss snagging every cent possible.

“If anything is positive from Proposition 227, this is a positive spinoff,” said Cliff Rodrigues, director of bilingual programs for the Ventura County schools office. “The potential is we’ll be able to reach a lot more adults than we are currently reaching through English as a Second Language classes. The big question is how many. How far can we go with that million dollars?”

The money, due to arrive by the end of this calendar year, will be used to teach parents and other adults to speak and read English for free or at reduced rates.

School officials could receive $ 60 or more for each of Ventura County’s 26,033 limited-English-speaking children to spend on adult literacy classes, tutoring, background checks for instructors, transportation and more, said Olga C. Uribe, a consultant with the California Department of Education.

When the first pot of money arrives, it will represent two years’ worth of funds because Proposition 227 passed last fiscal year and a new fiscal year has begun.

The only strings attached are that thorough records be kept for the community-based tutoring programs and that adults who participate pledge to use their newfound skills to help children learn English.

Several Ventura County adult educators said they were unfamiliar with the program but intrigued.

“We’re always looking at how we, as an adult school, can provide assistance to that little guy or gal who doesn’t speak English,” said Pete Ortega, director of Oxnard Union High’s adult education program.

“If we can give services to their parents, my gosh, we can be a huge benefit to the young children who live in Ventura County,” he said. “We can give these kids an even start, for heaven’s sake, if their parents can help them at home with their homework.”

That’s the whole idea, said Sheri Annis, the spokeswoman for English for the Children, which backed Proposition 227.

“Prior to writing the initiative, we heard a lot of concerns about placing children in ‘sheltered English’ classes and then sending them home with their English homework to parents who know no English,” Annis said. “This allows parents to be involved in their children’s education.”

Only a few weeks into the implementation of Proposition 227, Ventura city schools’ adult education program has already seen an influx of new students, said program coordinator Judy Perkins.

“We’ve seen a large number of students in the ESL program who weren’t there before because they want to help their kids,” she said. “With the new money, I’d like to see parents actually helping the kids with English as part of the program in a cross-age situation. I don’t know if that’s practical or not yet, but that would be an ideal situation.”

When Ventura County educators meet later this month, they are expected to consider partnerships between large districts with established ESL programs and smaller districts that don’t provide those services.

Small school districts could also work with community organizations to create tutoring programs.

“We are more than amenable to collaboration,” said Ortega of Oxnard’s adult education program, which is near the Rio, Hueneme and Ocean View school districts. “I think each of the big four–Ventura, Conejo, Oxnard and Simi–has an adult school program that provides services to smaller districts.”

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