English-Language Learners

Calif. Judge: State Can’t Bar Bilingual Classes From Grants

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — April 09, 2003 2 min read
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A California judge has issued a preliminary injunction that orders the state—at least for now—to allow local bilingual education programs to qualify for federal reading grants.

Under current state policy, bilingual education programs essentially are barred from receiving some of the $133 million in Reading First grants that go to California from the U.S. Department of Education.

The April 1 decision came in response to a lawsuit filed last month by parents of students in bilingual education programs. They argued that the Reading First grants were intended to help schools with large numbers of English-learners and other students at risk of academic failure.

After receiving the federal grant earlier this year, the California state board of education voted to use the money only for classes that teach the state’s English-only reading curriculum. That rule, the lawsuit charged, unfairly disqualified bilingual classrooms, in which reading lessons are generally taught in students’ native languages.

In 1998, California voters approved Proposition 227, a law that curbs bilingual education, but permits bilingual classes for students whose parents request waivers.

Rules Modified

The state Reading First guidelines initially stated that schools with bilingual classes were ineligible for the money, which is used for teacher training and curriculum materials. After a clarification from a state reading committee, the state board issued new rules. While the rules allowed those schools to apply for the grants, they prevented the money from being used in bilingual classrooms.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the state board drafted the grant-eligibility rules behind closed doors and approved them without the required public input.

Superior Court Judge Ronald Evans Quidachay told state officials to stop enforcing the funding ban, and to notify school districts that the deadline to apply for the grants would be extended until April 16.

Now, many districts “will have the opportunity to receive funding that will enable them to train the teachers of some of the neediest children in the state,” said Deborah Escobedo, a lawyer with Multicultural, Education, Training and Advocacy, an advocacy group for immigrant parents that represented the plaintiffs.

State officials defended the requirement, saying it was intended to ensure that all students are prepared for state reading tests in English beginning in the 3rd grade. The state board could decide at its meeting this week whether to appeal.

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