Voter Cheat Sheet — Prop. 58 Ends the English-Only Classroom Rule; Prop. 51 Builds More Schools
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Before Angelenos head to the polls on Nov. 8, we are breaking down the ballot into some quick reads to get you up to speed on what's up for a vote. Read more about the other propositions here.
Proposition 58: Ending English Only
What's at Stake:
Once upon a time, in 1998, California voters settled a bitter controversy over how English was taught to non-native speakers in public schools. The passage of Proposition 227 eliminated "bilingual education" in schools, made English-only teaching mandatory and set the present course for how English is taught in public schools today.
For two decades now, the law has offered parents of English learners just one way to opt out of the English-only requirement: They must sign a waiver authorizing their school district to pair English-language instruction with the teaching of core academic subjects in the child's native language. Not all districts offer the alternative program, in which case the district requires the parents of at least 20 students at the same grade level to petition the district, or the parents of 30 students at all grade levels.
If passed, this year’s Proposition 58 would eliminate the waiver requirement for the parents of English learners while restoring a measure of local control to the districts. The measure would essentially allow for more flexibility and, supporters say, the application of new and proven methods to improve the academic performance of new learners. It also bodes well for a new problem that has cropped up since the original passage of Proposition 227: the growing backlog of parents of native English speakers on waiting lists to enroll in bilingual or "bi-literate" language-immersion programs. Those parents, however, are not required to submit a waiver to opt in to such programs.
What It Does:
The academic gains for students since the passage of Proposition 227 have been undeniable. But the body of research on the issue tends to credit those results to a combination of reforms favoring increased accountability, which passed around the same period. The performance gap between English learners and native English speakers has decreased slightly in 18 years, but that gap has remained "virtually constant in most subject areas for most grades," according to a 2006 study by the American Institutes for Research and WestEd.
The language in Proposition 58 highlights the advantages of multilingualism in the 21st-century economy, and criticizes the status quo of English-only instruction as a constraint on the effectiveness of teachers and school districts to provide not only English but also multilingual instruction.
Unlike Proposition 227, which critics say was tainted from the start with the prevailing resentment against immigration in the 1990s, Proposition 58 is almost without controversy. Yes on 58 has widespread support and a list of sponsors that includes the California Chamber of Commerce, California School Boards Association, California Association for Bilingual Education and California State Parent Teachers Association. Organized opposition to 58 is almost nil. A big reason why is that in 20 years, Proposition 227 has decimated the rolls of students receiving academic instruction in languages other than English. Today, under the current system, only 425 public schools in California offer an alternative to English-only immersion, out of 10,393 schools in the state.
What Happens If It Passes:
If Proposition 58 passes, it will enable parents, teachers and school administrators at the district level to determine the methods of English instruction, by eliminating the state mandate that supersedes them under current law. "Proposition 58 doesn't mandate anything," says Jan Gustafson-Core, CEO of the California Association for Bilingual Education, which supports the measure. "It gives schools local control."
If Proposition 58 fails, the status quo will continue, as will the backlogs of native English speakers whose parents wish to enroll them in multilingual immersion programs alongside English learners.
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Proposition 51: School Building
What's at Stake:
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If approved, Proposition 51 would authorize $7 billion for school-construction spending statewide at the K-12 level, and $2 billion for community colleges, for a total of $9 billion. California voters have not approved a state school-construction bond since 2006. The fund is depleted and Proposition 51 would replenish it.
At present, school-construction spending — on everything from basic health and safety upgrades to providing classrooms to new students — falls to the local districts, more than half of which are not spending enough to cover maintenance and operational needs, according to Dr. Jeff Vincent, deputy director of the Center for Cities + Schools at the University of California, Berkeley.
Proposition 51 is unusual in that it did not come from the Legislature, the route of previous school bond measures, but from the building industry. Gov. Jerry Brown's administration tried to put together an alternative funding package earlier this year and take it through the Legislature. At the last minute, the proposal died. Proposition 51 emerged in its place, sponsored by the building industry, the building trades, the state Democratic and Republican parties and seemingly everyone of consequence in Sacramento except Gov. Brown, who dismissed the measure last year as “a blunderbuss effort."
Gov. Brown has said Proposition 51 does not do enough to aid lower-income school districts. His director of finance, Michael Cohen, wrote in an opinion piece for the Sacramento Bee that Proposition 51 locks in rules that disburse funds to districts on a first-come, first-served basis, rather than on the basis of need. But isn't an imperfect bond measure better than no state action at all? The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) estimates that schools in California require $4 billion to $8 billion a year for school replacement and upgrades. For now, California public school districts are entirely reliant upon local funds to maintain their existing facilities and build new ones as needed, according to a report by the Center for Cities + Schools.
"If Proposition 51 fails, K-12 facility inequities will most certainly widen. If it passes, we have missed an opportunity to put in place reforms," says Vincent, one of the co-authors of the report, in an email to L.A. Weekly.
What It Does:
Proposition 51 would make $9 billion in funding available for maintenance and new construction at K-12 public schools and community colleges statewide. A $9 billion bond issue sold at an estimated interest rate of 5 percent will cost the state $17.6 billion — the $9 billion principal, plus $8.6 billion in interest, repayable in installments of $500 million a year over a 35-year period, according to an estimate by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The state's current debt stands at more than $400 billion.
What Happens If It Passes:
The state would provide matching funds for the dollars that local school districts and community colleges invest in school construction. Proponents of Proposition 51 say it will expand the community college system and, at the K-12 level, address upgrades in school technology, renovations, safety improvements such as removal of asbestos and replacement of lead pipes, and new construction.
Proposition 51 also would protect developers from having to foot 100 percent of the bill for new school construction costs. Because unless the state fund for school construction is replenished, the State Allocation Board has already allowed the school districts to increase developer fees to cover 100 percent of new school–construction costs, a policy the developers challenged in court and lost. Proposition 51 would reduce the developers' obligation to only half the cost of a school-construction project, even if the project benefits their housing tract. Opponents of Proposition 51 have said this amounts to allowing the building industry to profit at taxpayer expense. On the other hand, industry analysts have warned that the State Allocation Board's move to shift greater costs onto developers could bring about a rise in housing prices.
Schools at the K-12 level would submit proposals to the state’s Office of Public School Construction. Proposals from community colleges would go through the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.
Analysts predict a close vote on Proposition 51. In September, a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 47 percent of voters were in favor, 43 percent were opposed and 10 percent were unsure, according to a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.
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