Evolution of Important Events in California Bilingual Education Policy

(leads up to current pending legislation, relevant federal legislation is included) 

1967 Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, signed Senate Bill 53, which ended a 95-year old state education mandate that required all schools to carry out instruction in English.

1968 President Johnson signed Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provided funds for staff and materials development as well as parent involvement for students with limited English skills. There was no requirement for schools to use non-English languages. The law was specified for students who are both poor and "educationally disadvantaged because of their inability to speak English."

1972 AB 2284 was the first piece of state legislation in California that pertained to funding school districts for services provided English Language Learners (ELLs). This piece of legislation was quite open and permissive. It did not require districts to provide bilingual education services to English Language Learners (ELL), but merely allowed them to compete amongst themselves in applying for funds to develop bilingual programs (CDE, 1985).

1974 The Federal Supreme Court ruled on the case Lau v. Nichols, basing their decision on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The ruling stated that "There is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers and curriculum; for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education." Regarding remedies, "No specific remedy is urged upon us. Teaching English to students of Chinese ancestry who do not speak the language is one choice. Giving instructions to this group in Chinese is another. There may be others. Petitioners ask only that the Board of Education be directed to apply its expertise to the problem and rectify the situation."

1975 Terrence Bell, the United States Commissioner of Education issued the "Lau Remedies". These remedies went beyond the Lau decision and required that bilingual education be provided. It is important to note that these remedies were drafted and circulated without public comment, and were not equivalent to Federal regulations.

1976 In California, AB 1329 (also known as the Chacon-Moscone Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act) was passed. This piece of legislation, which essentially replaced AB 2284/1972, was the first state legislative act that mandated school districts to provide language minority students with equal educational opportunities despite their limited proficiency in English. This Act was a response to the Lau v. Nichols 1974 Supreme Court decision (CDE, 1985). Note, however, that this Act, unlike federal legislation, which left decision making regarding program type for ELLs to localities, explicitly proclaimed bilingual education as a right of English language learners.

1980 In California, AB 507 (Bilingual Education Improvement and Reform Act) was designed to update and strengthen AB 1329/76. Like AB 1329/76, this Act mandated that districts provide bilingual instruction for every LEP student in California. It strengthened the former act in several ways including expanding the use of students’ primary languages in classroom instruction.

1980 The Carter Administration proposed the Lau Regulations. These regulations proposed mandating bilingual education in schools with at least 25 LEP students from the same language group in K-8. The proposed regulations were later withdrawn by the Reagan administration in 1981 because they were considered "harsh, inflexible, burdensome, unworkable, and incredibly costly", and because the administration considered bilingual education as an intrusion on state and local responsibility. Instead, school districts would be permitted to serve the needs of LEP students in any way they have found to be successful. 

1981 The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the Casta–eda v. Pickard case. This ruling interpreted the Equal Education Opportunities Act of 1974 statement of "appropriate action" as requiring the meeting of three criteria: 1) programs must be based on "sound educational theory"; 2) they must be "implemented effectively" with adequate resources and personnel, and 3) after a trial period, the program must be evaluated as effective in overcoming language handicaps (Crawford, 1989).

1984 The federal Bilingual Education Act was re-authorized to cap the total appropriations for Special Alternative Instructional Programs that do not require instruction in the native language at 4%. The re-authorization also eliminated the National Advisory Council for Bilingual Education.

1985 U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett launched an initiative to remove the 4% cap for Special Alternative Instructional Programs and advocated for greater flexibility and local control.

1986 Proposition 63 (California State Constitution, Article III, Section 6 ) passes in California. California voters overwhelmingly passed this ballot initiative that declared English as the "official language of California." Although passage of this initiative itself did not prevent native language instruction from occurring in the public schools, its well-timed introduction, coinciding with the reauthorization for the Chacon-Moscone law, provided a popular mandate for the governor to allow the law to sunset..

1987 "Sunsetting" of AB 1329/76 and AB 1329/80 in California. California Governor Deukmejian allowed the the Moscone-Chacon Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act of 1976 and AB 1329/80 to sunset. These were the last official Bilingual Education laws that were active in the state of California. Despite the Acts’ sunsetting, many of their "general purposes" have remained operative, and districts were still required to follow these purposes when designing instructional programs for LEP students. The provision of the Act that requires districts to use students’ primary language in instruction or support when it is deemed necessary for individual students in accordance with locally adopted policies also remained operative. Nonetheless, the governor’s repeal of support for the law weakened the previous legislative mandate for bilingual education in California.

1988 The U.S. Bilingual Education Act was re-authorized to allocate up to 25% (up from 4%) of funds to Special Alternative Instructional Programs that do not require instruction in the native language.

1989 The U.S. 9th District judge, Lowell Jensen, ruled in the Teresa P. v. Berkeley 9th Circuit Court case that school districts are not required by federal law to provide native language instruction, even though native language instruction may be the optimal choice. The judge also removed the mandate that teachers of LEP students must hold specialized credentials, claiming that "good teachers are good teachers no matter what the educational challenges may be." The basic principles of the Chacon-Moscone Act still apply despite the judge’s ruling; however, critics of bilingual education often cite the conclusions reached by the judge in this case.

1995 On July 14, 1995, the California State Board of Education revised its policy statement on how local districts are to determine which programs to provide LEP students. The Board identified two goals, based on the provisions of state and federal law, that school districts are asked to achieve in developing and implementing programs for LEP students:

"1) rapid development of English proficiency (literacy), including speaking, reading, and writing, and

2) the opportunity to learn, including access to a challenging core curriculum and access to primary language development."

(California Department of Education, 1997) 

In addition to identifying the above goals, the Board also implemented a system of waivers that school districts can use to apply for permission not to use students’ primary languages in classroom instruction. So far, no waivers have been denied, and all waivers granted have been to districts in Orange County.

1996 Senator Alpert and Assembly Member Firestone proposed a bilingual education reform bill, SB 6, that would replace all references in the Education Code to the four specified provisions of the Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act of 1976 with a reference to the Alpert-Firestone English Learners Education Reform Act of 1998. This bill does not mandate native language instruction, but instead attempts to implement a system of standards and assessment.

Among other points, SB 6 proposes to do the following:

(December, 1996) California State Senator Hilda Solis introduced SB 91, "The Bilingual Education-Educational Equity Act of 1997." If passed, this bill would repeal the Chacon-Moscone Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act of 1976, and would require school districts in California to do the following:

1997 (May): Santa Ana teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz place an initiative on the 1998 ballot that would dismantle all bilingual-education programs(with a few exceptions) in the state and replace them with a one-year sheltered English instruction program.


(January) Assembly Member Mike Honda, introduced ACA-7 the "School Board Bill of Rights" a measure that would require all teaching methods to be tested by a panel of experts and determined to be objectively superior to other methods before being adapted by districts into policy. This measure, if passed, would become a constitutional amendment that would essentially prevent the state from adapting a uniform pedagogical method without adequate review. Honda’s purpose in introducing this measure was to bar implementation of the Unz/Tuchman initiative even if voters pass it in June.

(January): Westminster (in Orange County) becomes the first district in the state to receive a permanent waiver from teaching bilingual education. 

(February 27) Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ronald B. Robie ruled in Quiroz v. Orange Unified School District that, pursuant to California's "sunset" funding statute, school districts have an affirmative obligation to provide primary language instruction when necessary to provide equal opportunity for academic achievement. The Judge also ruled that the State Board of Education does not have the authority under the Education Code's waiver statute to grant waivers to school districts requesting exemption from providing native language instruction, and that the Board must set aside the waiver it granted to Orange Unified. Prior to the Orange case, the Board had granted three such waivers all to school districts located in Orange County. Judge Robie is expected to issue a final order, hopefully clarifying his decision, in the near future.

(March 12) At the request of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a co-respondent in the Quiroz case, the State Board of Education voted 10-0 to rescind its policy memoranda concerning school districts' obligations to LEP students. The Board also voted to enact new policies and regulations concerning state LEP obligations but indicated that these new policies would be based primarily on federal law, which does not require primary language instruction. The Board acknowledged that pursuant to Judge Robie's decision it no longer has the authority to grant waivers to school districts regarding primary language instruction, but also voiced the position that it no longer has the obligation to require school districts to provide primary language instruction when necessary. The petitioners in the Quiroz case strongly dispute the Board's position concerning the state's obligation regarding primary language instruction. The Board has set an April date to decide its new policies.


Compiled by Daria Witt (4/98)