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Education Reporter

Sun Sets on Bilingual Ed
Appeals Court upholds Proposition 227
Sharon Browne
Sharon Browne
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Oct. 7 upheld the constitutionality of California's Proposition 227, which ended the state's failed system of bilingual education in 1998 and replaced it with English immersion. The Appeals Court decision upheld a prior U.S. District Court ruling that Proposition 227 does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

"Nowhere does the text of Proposition 227 explicitly mention racial minorities generally, or any racial minority in particular," the Ninth Circuit opinion states. "Rather, the initiative merely provides that 'children in California public schools' shall be taught in English. Furthermore, the record is devoid of any evidence that Proposition 227 was crafted from racial animus."

The Ninth Circuit confirmed the lower court's opinion that Proposition 227 does not harbor "any hidden agenda of racial or national origin discrimination against any group . . . The debate is a neutral one, about which system will provide LEP [limited English proficient] children with the best education to enable them to function as American citizens and enjoy the opportunities and privileges of life in the United States."

Pacific Legal Foundation Attorney Sharon L. Browne successfully defended Proposition 227. Following the Ninth Circuit's ruling, she stated: "We are overjoyed that the court has recognized Proposition 227 as the lawful, nondiscriminatory solution to a broken down system that provided nothing more than a disservice to California's English learning students."

The initiative was approved by California voters in June 1998 by a margin of 61% to 39%. According to the Washington Times (National Weekly Edition, 10/14-20/02) a poll taken in Los Angeles prior to the election found that Proposition 227 was supported by 84% of Latino voters as well as 80% of non-Hispanic white voters.

Its passage essentially dismantled California's 30-year-old practice of teaching LEP students in their native language and replaced it with a system of "sheltered English immersion," which means students are provided with a temporary transition period not to exceed one year before being placed in English-only classrooms. Students are allowed waivers from English immersion when there is a need and parental consent.

After Proposition 227 became law, LEP 2nd graders' test scores in spelling, language, reading, and math rose dramatically on statewide tests. (See Education Reporter, April 2002.)

The challenge to Proposition 227's constitutionality was brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the Multicultural Education Training and Advocacy Group (META), the ACLU, and other bilingual education supporters.

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