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Election 2016 FAQ: Proposition 58, English Language Education

Prop 58.
California Counts
Prop 58.

Proposition 58 eliminates a law that schools teach students in English only See a list of all our proposition explainers here.

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.

The basics

Eighteen years ago, California voters approved the English in Public Schools initiative, Proposition 227, which required schools to teach all students in “English only” unless parents obtained a waiver for their child. The measure emerged at a time when some Californians felt uneasy about the number of immigrants coming into the state, and concerned about how English learners — students who speak little or no English — were being taught.


Now the state Legislature is asking voters to repeal key provisions of Proposition 227 by approving Proposition 58, the Multilingual Education Act.

What you're voting on

Proposition 58 would eliminate the English-only mandate. Instead, school districts could adopt any approach they see fit to teaching English learners, as long as they get community input and ensure that all students master the English language.

The approaches could include bilingual programs that were largely eliminated under Proposition 227. In a bilingual program, a student’s native language is utilized in the instruction. If Proposition 58 passes, there would be no prohibition against bilingual programs. Bilingual programs typically last from three to six years. After that, students generally transition into mainstream classes where subjects are taught only in English. (Some programs continue to teach English learners in their native language for at least part of the day.)

A “no” vote on this measure would require schools to continue teaching students in English-only programs. In these programs, English learners take all their subjects in English from teachers who speak only in English in special, sheltered classes. The program lasts for no more than a year before they transition into regular classrooms that are conducted only in English.


Proposition 58 would also repeal existing limits on bilingual education programs that were permitted under Proposition 227. A no vote would leave in place those limits, such as requiring a waiver not to be taught in English only.

Currently, the state officially identifies 1.3 million public school students as English learners, or one out of every five students. Other estimates put a higher number of public school kids who speak a language other than English at home: two million, or one out of three. Most speak Spanish, but a growing number speak Vietnamese or Tagalog.

Many education experts today say mastering more than one language is extremely valuable to succeed in a global economy. Indeed, there’s a growing demand for dual-language immersion programs in schools. That’s a change since voters passed Proposition 227 almost two decades ago.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office says Proposition 58 would have “no notable fiscal effect” on the state budget.

Who are the supporters and opponents?

Supporters of Proposition 58 include associations of teachers, school administrators and school boards, as well as the chambers of commerce in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.

The most vocal opponent is Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz, who led the 1998 campaign to dismantle bilingual education in California. He argues that previous bilingual education for Latino children was an educational disaster that didn’t effectively teach these students English. He believes that English-only instruction has succeeded.

Fiscal impact — by the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

Proposition 58 would have no effect on the state budget. Costs for school districts and county governments would be small. Schools might need to develop new programs or train teachers, but these costs would likely be paid for within current budgets.

Supporters say — by the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

  • English learners should be educated in whatever way best meets their learning needs.
  • Proposition 58 would give parents and school districts more control over the way children are educated.

Opponents say — by the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

  • Since the state has required instruction primarily in English, student test scores have improved.
  • Proposition 58 would hurt some students’ chances of learning English by creating classrooms that primarily teach in Spanish.

How much is being spent on the campaigns?

Corrected: September 21, 2022 at 11:33 AM PDT
This article has been updated to clarify that some bilingual programs were permitted under Proposition 227.