Credit: Andrew Reed/EdSource

Students work together on an assignment at Nystrom Elementary School in Richmond.

A bill that would have helped school districts open more bilingual immersion programs failed in the California State Assembly this month, dashing the hopes of many bilingual education advocates.

Senate Bill 952 reportedly established a program to provide at least 20 school districts with technical assistance and grants of up to $750,000 each to expand or establish bilingual immersion programs.

Bilingual immersion programs are designed to help both English-only speakers and other-language speakers become bilingual by teaching all students in both languages. To research shows that these programs improve the academic success of English learners and at the same time benefit students whose first language is English.

The bill was co-sponsored by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, the California Association for Bilingual Education and Californians Together, a nonprofit that advocates for students who speak a language other than English at home. .

It received no formal opposition, but no funding was included in the 2022 budget, and it failed to get past the Assembly Appropriations Committee. A similar invoice introduced by Thurmond when he was a member of the Assembly, passed in 2018 but never funded or implemented.

“With the global initiative being what it is and having such a visionary goal, they really haven’t done a good job of guiding us towards that goal. Are we saying this or are we going to do it?” Abbey said. Kerins, director of special projects, Newark Unified School District.

Supporters of the bill have expressed disappointment and frustration that the bill has not moved forward, saying the action is contrary to the state’s stated goals of expanding bilingual education, including California World 2030 initiative, which sets a state goal for half of all K-12 students to participate in programs that lead to proficiency in two or more languages ​​by 2030.

“I am disappointed that SB 952 is not moving forward in the legislative process,” said Senator Monique Limón, who introduced the bill. “Bilingual education is essential to ensure that all California students are supported and has been shown to improve cognitive abilities, memory and cross-cultural appreciation. At a time when we are making historic investments in K-12 education, we must ensure that every student has the tools they need to reach their full potential.

Thurmond also expressed disappointment. California Department of Education spokesman Jonathan Mendick wrote in an email: “He is disappointed. As a member of the Assembly and as a superintendent, he was a continuous champion of multilingual and bilingual programs, and SB 952 would have provided an important opportunity for schools and students throughout California. He would like to thank Senator Limón for her leadership and for pushing the bill through to completion, and CABE and Californians Together for being great partners and co-sponsors of the bill. The work is not done and we will continue to defend bilingual and multilingual immersion programs.

Some supporters of the bill have pointed out that there is not enough funding to meet the strong demand from districts wishing to launch bilingual immersion programs. Last year’s budget established a grant program for bilingual immersion programs. According to information filed with the Assembly, the California Department of Education received 160 applications. The department was only able to award grants to 27 districts and charter schools.

“California has missed an opportunity to continue its vital investments in expanding dual-language immersion programs to meet the demand for these types of programs and their effectiveness in meeting the needs of English language learners and learners in dual languages,” said Martha Hernández, executive director of Californians Together, a nonprofit that advocates for students who speak a language other than English at home. “Funding the start-up costs of these research-based programs is a perfect use of one-time funds, especially given the need to expand quality school options to combat declining enrollment.”

Abbey Kerins, director of special projects for the Newark Unified School District, said it was expensive to start a new dual immersion program because of the new materials and teacher training required. Newark Unified, located in the East Bay area, just launched a dual immersion program in Spanish and English last year. Like many of these programs, it began as a kindergarten and grade one program, and is expected to increase by one year each year, until the program is offered through eighth grade.

“The state has not helped us much in its support for bilingual immersion. With the global initiative being what it is and having such a visionary goal, they really haven’t done a good job of guiding us towards that goal,” Kerins said. “Are we saying this or are we going to do it? Saying it’s exciting and the parents say, “OK, we’ve applied,” but there’s no money behind it. We have this local obligation to respond to requests from parents, but our response will have to be, to parents’ frustration, “No, we can’t do anything, we can’t afford it”.

Anya Hurwitz is the director of SEAL, a nonprofit organization that provides training and assistance to help schools across the state implement strong bilingual programs. She said SB 952 would have been “a step forward” toward achieving the Global California 2030 initiative.

“Districts can’t do it alone. Resources are needed to implement evidence-based practices to recruit, train and retain bilingual teachers to expand dual immersion programs,” said Hurwitz. “Multilingual education is a proven approach to transforming our education systems from inequitable and opportunity-expanding systems to ones that focus on the strengths and needs of our greatest promise for tomorrow, our children.”

Advocates for bilingual education and English learners said they will continue to push for funding and legislative support to expand bilingual immersion programs in the state.

“The bill had such bipartisan support and there was so much interest in seeing the bilingual immersion program grow. We were very disappointed that it couldn’t move forward,” said Jennifer Baker, legislative attorney for the California Association for Bilingual Education. “We are absolutely committed to continuing the conversation and trying to expand it in the future.”

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