The California Department of Education has agreed to strengthen oversight of school district efforts to help the state’s 1.4 million English-language learners.
As part of a new watchdog process, state officials have agreed to improve data collection to more easily identify students denied English-language services and better inform school districts of their legal obligation to help the students.
The agreement is part of a settlement the state and and several civil rights groups reached after a Los Angeles judge ruled last fall that the state failed, for years, to ensure that districts provide ELLs with services required under federal law.
Civil rights attorneys celebrated the settlement.
“For the first time in California history, all English Learners will learn English,” Mark Rosenbaum, directing attorney of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law Initiative, said in a statement.
Rosenbaum later added: “This agreement translates to ‘educational opportunity’ in all languages.”
In its lawsuit, D.J., et al. v State of California, et. al., the ACLU argued that California neglected its obligation to monitor services for students in many of the state’s more than 1,000 school districts. Students in 250-plus school districts were denied English-language services in 2010-11, according to data cited in the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of California and other civil rights groups.
Those students represented roughly a quarter of all English-learners in California.
The ACLU also alleged that some of those districts received tens of millions of dollars in state aid, as well as federal funds, for the purpose of providing English-language instruction to ELLs, but didn’t provide the services.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will seek funding for three new state-level specialists to help improve English-language services and step up oversight.
“We are eager to carry out the terms of this settlement, including adding staff and providing additional guidance to districts, so together we can make sure English learners get the support they deserve,” he said in a statement.
Students who are denied English-language-learner services often disengage from school, and have lower high school graduation rates and college attendance rates than those who do.
“We are pleased that state officials ultimately decided to work with us to create a meaningful backstop that will protect English-learners,” Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, said in a statement.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.