A BILL THAT would have helped school districts open more dual-language immersion programs fizzled in the California State Assembly this month, crushing the hopes of many advocates of bilingual education.

Senate Bill 952 would have established a program to offer at least 20 school districts technical assistance and grants of up to $750,000 each to expand or establish dual-language immersion programs.

Dual-language immersion programs are designed to help both those who speak only English and those who speak only another language become bilingual by teaching all students in both languages. Research shows that these programs improve academic achievement for English learners, and at the same time benefit students who are native English speakers.

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

It received no formal opposition, but no funding for it was included in the 2022 budget, and it failed to advance beyond the Appropriations Committee in the Assembly. A similar bill introduced by Thurmond when he was an Assembly member passed in 2018 but was never funded or implemented.

“With the global initiative being what it is and having such a visionary goal, they’ve really not done a good job of ushering us toward that goal. Are we saying this or are we going to do it?”

Abbey Kerins, director of special projects, Newark Unified School District

Proponents of the bill expressed disappointment and frustration that the bill did not move forward, saying the action is contrary to the state’s stated goals of expanding bilingual education, including the Global California 2030 initiative, which sets a goal for the state to have half of all K-12 students participating in programs leading to proficiency in two or more languages by 2030.

“I am disappointed that SB 952 will not move on in the legislative process,” said state Sen. Monique Limón, who introduced the bill. “Bilingual education is critical in ensuring all of California’s students are supported and has been shown to improve cognitive ability, memory and cross-cultural appreciation. At a time when we are making historic investments in K-12 education, we must ensure every student has the tools they need to reach their fullest potential.”

Thurmond expressed disappointment as well. California Department of Education spokesman Jonathan Mendick wrote in an email, “He’s disappointed. As an Assemblymember, and as a Superintendent, he has been a continuous champion of multilingual and dual-language programs, and SB 952 would have provided an important opportunity for schools and students across California. He’d like to thank Senator Limón for her leadership and for getting the bill along the process as far as it got, and to CABE and Californians Together for being great partners and co-sponsors of the bill. The work isn’t over, and we will continue to champion dual-language immersion and multilingual programs.”

So much demand, too little funding

Some proponents of the bill pointed out that there is not enough funding to meet the high demand among districts that want to start dual language immersion programs. Last year’s budget established a grant program for dual-language immersion programs. According to information filed in 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 the opportunity to continue vital investments in the expansion of dual language immersion programs to meet the demand for these types of programs and their effectiveness at meeting the needs of English learners and dual language learners,” said Martha Hernández, executive director of Californians Together, a nonprofit organization that advocates for students who speak a language other than English at home. “Funding the start-up costs for these research-based programs is a perfect use of one-time funds, especially given the need to expand quality school options to fight enrollment declines.”

Abbey Kerins, director of special projects for Newark Unified School District, said it is expensive to begin 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 school year. Like many such programs, it started as a kindergarten and first grade program, and is set to grow a grade each year, until the program is offered all the way through eighth grade.

“The state has not done us well in their support of dual language immersion. With the global initiative being what it is and having such a visionary goal, they’ve really not done a good job of ushering us toward that goal,” said Kerins. “Are we saying this or are we going to do it? Saying it is exciting and parents are saying ‘OK, we’ve made a request,’ but there’s no money behind it. We have this local obligation to respond to parent requests, but our response is going to have to be, to the frustration of parents, ‘No, we can’t do anything, we can’t afford it.’”

‘Districts cannot do it alone’

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 fulfilling the Global California 2030 initiative.

“Districts cannot do it alone. Resources are needed to build evidence-based practices to recruit, train and retain bilingual teachers to expand dual-immersion programs,” Hurwitz said. “Multilingual education is a proven approach to transforming our education systems from being inequitable and widening opportunity gaps, into systems that center the assets and needs of our greatest promise for tomorrow, our children.”

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

“The bill had such strong bipartisan support, and there was so much interest in seeing the program for dual-language immersion expand. We were very disappointed that it failed to move forward,” said Jennifer Baker, legislative advocate for the California Association for Bilingual Education. “We’re absolutely committed to continuing the conversation and trying to expand this in the future.”

This story originally appeared in EdSource.