Proposed Fiscal Analysis of the "English for the Children" initiative
Calculating the precise fiscal impact of the initiative is difficult, perhaps
impossible. Apparently, neither the State Department of Education nor the
relevant departments for individual school districts have ever made an
effort to compile data on the aggregate cost of current programs aimed
at Limited English Proficient (LEP) Children. If the cost of the current
system is unknown, determining the fiscal impact of the proposed change
is obviously made more difficult. Nonetheless, it seems possible to produce
reasonable estimates of the cost of the current system, and that following
the proposed change.
1) Number of LEP students in California public school.
Approximately 1.4 million, according to latest statistics from the State
Department of Education.
2) Annual additional cost per LEP student.
This figure can only be arrived at through estimation, based on studies
which have attempted to determine this figure for various other states
and localities. Most of these studies are reviewed in Bilingual Education
in Massachusetts, pp. 141-146. Cardenas, Bernal, and Kean (1976)
estimated the additional cost of a "bilingual" program to be
30-35% in Texas, 17-25% in Utah, and 15-22% in Colorado. Garcia (1977)
estimated the cost of "bilingual" programs to be 27% in New Mexico.
Given average current per student spending in California schools of $5000-6000,
these percentage figures would translate into current costs of $1000-2000.
Carpenter-Huffman and Samulon (1981, 1983) estimated the additional cost
of "bilingual" programs to be $200-700 in six school districts
surveyed, corresponding to $500-1,500 in constant 1997 dollars (which understates
the result since educational costs have risen faster than the CPI). Prince
and Hubert (1990) estimated the additional costs of "bilingual"
programs in Hartford, CT at $680. These studies also indicated that certain
other forms of LEP instruction, such as ESL pullout, are actually more
expensive than "bilingual education." A detailed review by Rossell
of additional per student costs of "bilingual" programs across
Massachusetts in the early 1990s produced an average figure of $1,179 per
student. Rosalie Pedalino Porter, who directed LEP instruction in Newton,
MA, reports the additional cost of $1000 per LEP student for her school
district in the 1980s, and indicates that administrators from most other
school districts with whom she has discussed the figures report a roughly
similar expense. Furthermore, the Los Angeles USD pays "bilingual"
certified teachers a salary bonus of $3000-5000 per year. Since approximately
a third of California LEP students are in "bilingual" programs,
and many of the remainder are in the even more costly ESL-pullout, it seems
plausible that the marginal additional expense per California LEP child
is in the approximate range of $1000-1500 per year. This is reasonably
consistent with total state-level spending of $319 million per year on
3) Current length of LEP designation.
According to the current dogma of "bilingual education," an LEP
child requires 5 to 7 years to become proficient in English, i.e. leave
LEP status, although the latest study by "bilingual" theorists
at UC Riverside claims the process takes 10 years. In actual fact, the
rate at which LEP students successfully transition from LEP status has
been substantially slower than this, generally 5 or 6% over the past few
years, implying an average stay of over 15 years(!) in LEP status. These
extremely long periods of LEP designation probably result from a combination
of the following factors: (a) LEP students in "bilingual" programs
are often exposed to little or no English (less than an hour each day)
for the first several years of school; (b) the Little Hoover Commission
report , p. 40 suggested that large numbers of LEP students who do learn
English may not be reclassified as fluent by school systems due to fiscal
disincentives; (c) LEP classification is irrationally defined, being usually
based on merely below-average performance in English. Regardless of which
of these factors is most responsible, the transition statistics imply that
at present LEP students in California remain LEP for over a decade.
4) Length of stay required under "sheltered immersion" programs.
An exhaustive recent study of language-acquisition techniques used for
native-language children in a dozen developed nations found virtually no
use of the "bilingual" approach legally mandated in California
public schools. Instead, most of these nations used either "newcomer"
or "reception" classes utilizing the "language immersion"
approach, followed by mainstreaming---much like the approach contemplated
by the initiative---or (more often for younger children) a simple "sink-or-swim"
submersion approach; such "newcomer" classes generally last for
no more than one year. There seems no evidence that these approaches are
any less successful than the "bilingual" approach standard in
California schools, nor any reason to believe that the approach would not
be equally applicable here. A review of 300 studies by Prof. Christine
Rossell  found that among scientifically valid comparisons of different
language techniques, "immersion" was superior to "bilingual
education" or "ESL pullout" in nearly all cases, and even
"sink-or-swim" submersion generally achieved superior results
to "bilingual" techniques. As a specific example, the one-year
"sheltered English immersion" technique used by initiative proponent
Gloria Matta Tuchman has been highly successful in teaching English to
LEP students, and has been replicated throughout her school district. Although
the LEP classification methodology is not explicitly specified by the initiative,
the LEP definitive used is a student "who is not currently able to
perform ordinary classroom work in English," which is strikingly different
than the current definition of a student who is below e.g. the 40th
percentile in English ability. Furthermore, according to the initiative,
LEP students placed in "sheltered English immersion" programs
should be transferred to mainstream classes once they "have acquired
a good working knowledge of English" (i.e. are no longer LEP), and
such a temporary transition period is "not normally intended to exceed
one year." Therefore, individual schools and school districts will
be forced to use LEP classification methods which imply a LEP transition
period of approximately 1 year (rather than the current 15 years).
5) Prevalence of English-immersion under initiative
Polls have consistently shown that the vast majority of LEP parents dislike
the native-language instruction techniques used under "bilingual education,"
with 80-85% of Latino parents in particular preferring that their children
be taught English as soon as they begin school. Under the initiative, such
English-language immersion programs will become the normal default, with
"bilingual education" being an option available only under specific
circumstances. For these reasons, both initiative proponents and opponents
agree that the overwhelming majority of LEP students would be placed in
immersion programs, with perhaps only 2-5% remaining in "bilingual"
or other programs.
6) Estimated fiscal impact to K-12 educational system
Based on the analysis of Section #5, we can assume that nearly all LEP
students will be placed in immersion programs, and therefore taught English
and reclassified as non-LEP after approximately one year (Section #4).
This contrasts with the current system, in which LEP require over a decade
to be reclassified as non-LEP (Section #3). Therefore, after the initial
one or two years of transition, the number of students in California public
schools classified as LEP on an ongoing basis should decrease by approximately
90% or more. If we take the estimated additional current expense per LEP
child from Section #2 and multiply it by the current number of LEP children,
we find current additional spending on LEP children in the range $1.4-2.1
billion annually. Since the initiative keeps fixed additional spending
per LEP student, a reduction of 90% in the number of ongoing LEP students
would imply educational savings of $1.2-1.9 billion to state and local
governments. Although this calculation is based on sub-estimates, each
of which are subject to some error, it is difficult to see how probable
aggregate savings to California's local school districts can be estimated
as being less than hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
7) Net fiscal impact
By drastically reducing the number of LEP-classified students and fixing
the per student rate of state supplemental LEP funding, the total amount
of such state spending---$331 million during the 1995-6 fiscal year---would
decrease dramatically. Partially counter-balancing this, the initiative
would appropriate an additional $50 million per year for ten years to be
provided to local school districts to fund adult English literacy programs.
Since both of these expenses fall into the Prop. 98 educational funding
category, it is likely that there would be no significant net fiscal impact
to the state, but that substantial amounts of educational savings could
be redirected to other state-level educational programs. The large fiscal
savings to local school districts from reduction in the number of LEP-classified
students would either be redirected to other educational needs or used
for other purposes. As discussed in Section #6, there would probably be
aggregate savings of hundreds of millions of dollars annually to California's
local school districts on programs for limited-English proficient students.
1. Bilingual Education in Massachusetts, Christine H. Rossell and
Keith Baker, Pioneer Institute, 1996.
2. Forked Tongue: The Politics of Bilingual Education, Rosalie Pedalino
Porter, Transaction Press, 1996.
3. A Chance to Succeed, Little Hoover Commission, 1993.
4. Educating Immigrant Children, Charles L. Glenn with Ester J.
de Jong, Garland Reference Library, 1996.
5. The Failure of Bilingual Education, Center for Equal Opportunity,