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Calif. Voters Could Get Shot at Restoring Bilingual Education

New legislation unveiled this week in California would ask voters to revisit the controversial ballot measure that has required the state's public schools to provide classroom instruction in English.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, introduced a bill that would repeal the restrictions placed on bilingual education that was approved by voters 16 years ago with the passage of Proposition 227. If approved by the legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, the measure would place a new initiative on the ballot that would give parents a choice to have their children receive instruction in languages other than English.

Lara's measure comes at a time when the fierce political battles over language instruction have largely ebbed. The fight over bilingual education—particularly transitional bilingual education programs—became especially heated in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts in the late 1990s and early 2000s, where voters in all three states favored ballot initiatives that pushed English immersion as the best approach to teaching English-language learners.

But in recent years in California, and other states, there has been a steady rise in dual-language programs as demand for bilingual and biliterate workers has increased and as a growing number of parents and educators see the positive impacts on academic achievement for both English-learners and students already fluent in English.

The state also became the first in the nation to offer special recognition—a seal of biliteracy—to graduating seniors who can demonstrate fluency in more than one language. Several states have followed suit.

In California, roughly 25 percent of the public K-12 enrollment are students who are classified as English-language learners.

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