California said yes to bilingual and multilingual programs in public schools Tuesday with the passing of Prop 58.
The votes came in favor of repealing most of the 1998 Proposition 227, which enforced English-only programs in public schools across the state for English-learning students, unless parents signed a waiver requesting otherwise.
Prop 58 now allows non-English languages to be used in public education instruction. English-learners can be taught by teachers who speak their native language to help them become proficient in English.
The new law gives local school districts the option of working with parents and communities to create programs that best fit students. Parents can then decide what program benefits their child the most based upon these options, instead of having to stick to one set program like Prop 227 required.
Parents of children who are native English-speakers would also have the option of placing their child in a bilingual program to learn another language.
But there's an issue.
California already faces a shortage of teachers all across the board, regardless of their area of expertise.
The state has a student-teacher ratio of 24:1, the highest in the country, according to a report by the Learning Policy Institute.
The national average is 16:1.
The state will need an additional 135,000 teachers to reach the national average, according to the report. With about a third of the teaching force up for retirement soon, that number will become even higher.
English-learners make up 22 percent of the state’s public school population, that's 1.4 million students, according to the California Department of Education. More than 80 percent of English learners in California speak Spanish.
If nearly a quarter of public school students in the state are English-learners, will school districts make an extra push to hire more bilingual teachers despite the existing teacher shortage?
"We don't really project our needs but there's a teacher shortage in every category in California," said Robert Oakes, Assistant Director of Communications at the California Department of Education.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to fill the thousands of vacant teacher spots, regardless of the teaching subject matter.
The Learning Policy Institute report states, there's not a single policy that can actually solve the teacher shortage.
The only thing that can be done is to increase the number people entering the teaching field and direct them to specialize in areas and locations where they're most needed.
Oakes explained, the State Superintendent of Public Education, Tom Torlakson, strongly supports bilingual programs, and the department is working toward increasing and expanding teacher training 'across the board'.
There's a push for more teachers coming from the Capitol, with bills in the legislation to expand teacher training, according to Oakes.
"Superintendent legislation encourages people to become a teacher," Oakes said.
There are teacher programs, such as dual certification, that allows people to receive a bachelor's degree and teaching credentials in four years, according to Oakes. This cuts back on the time it takes to become a teacher.
Even with the state's efforts, Prop 58 will add more pressure to the teacher shortage, especially for bilingual teachers.
After Prop 227 passed nearly 20 years ago, the number of bilingual teachers decreased and there have been less people working towards getting bilingual authorizations, the credential required to teach a bilingual immersion program in California.
There were 693 bilingual authorizations issued in the 2014-15 fiscal year, down from 1,268 in 2009-10, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
While Prop 58 aims to help students learn English using bilingual programs, it will likely be difficult to find enough teachers to fill the demand given the high number of English-learner students.
However, there is more money in the current state budget to help meet the teacher demand, according to Oakes.
Prop 55 also passed on election night, which will extend personal income tax increases on the wealthy to help fund education.
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