CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR PETE WILSON
VETO MESSAGE FOR SB 6
May 18, 1998
To the Members of the California Senate:
I am returning Senate Bill No. 6 without my signature.
This bill would enact requirements for the education of limited English
proficient (LEP) pupils in California's public schools.
There is great value in having California's students achieve bilingual
or even multi-lingual language proficiency as their ability permits and
their interest dictates. California stands to benefit both culturally and
commercially to the extent our people gain such skills. But in California's
schools, English should not be a foreign language. And yet it remains one
for too many LEP students -- because of the failure of bilingual programs.
Bilingual education in California has been a serious failure. It has
done a serious disservice by keeping LEP students dependent on their primary
language for far too long. By denying them early fluency in English, bilingual
programs have seriously short-changed these children educationally.
Despite its purported deference to local decision making and its stated
intention to create greater flexibility for implementing school districts,
SB 6 in fact fails to provide much hope of improvement.
It requires school districts to collect a welter of data.
It requires the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public
Instruction to impose a bureaucratic blizzard of regulations on the districts.
It requires the districts to compile mountains of reports to the Board
and the Department of Education.
But in the same breath in which it "declares that all programs
under this article shall develop English learners' proficiency in English
as effectively and efficiently as possible," it also requires that
"English learners" first "demonstrate academic achievement
in the core academic curriculum" at their grade level, rather than
first achieving English proficiency. This is a prescription for continuing
to teach the core curriculum in the student's primary language, relegating
English instructio n to a role of secondary importance and thereby prolonging
the student's dependency on his or her primary language. By contrast, federal
law truly does afford to districts a choice as to whether to achieve English
proficiency first and then pursue the teaching of the core curriculum in
English, with compensatory assistance if necessary. SB 6 does not give
Moreover, SB 6 would require that the new STAR testing program, just
adopted in 1997, be modified to require testing in all "major"
primary languages. This is hardly a step calculated to reduce dependency
on primary languages. The bill goes further in the wrong direction by stating
an intent to develop the statewide matrix examination in the "major"
It has been over ten years since the sunset of the state statute creating
the bilingual education program. Despite the sunset, the program has been
able to continue because the funding has continued past the sunset. Because
of the gridlock in addressing substantive reform of the program, I advised
the Legislature's leaders last year that time was running out on a legislative
solution, and that if they didn't take immediate action, the issue would
be solved outside the Legislative process. Unfortunately, the Legislature
failed to get a bill to my desk. A decade of failure has forced this issue
to the ballot and to the voters for resolution.
To her credit, the author of SB 6 has been trying for four years to
get a reform of bilingual programs to my desk. But even though the qualification
of Proposition 227 for the June ballot had allowed her finally to succeed,
legislative consensus has come not only late but with serious flaws.
Contrary to the rhetoric promoting this bill as one that provides parents
and school districts with the local control to design programs that best
meet the needs of children, the bill in fact not only evokes the spirit
of the old bilingual law and programs in prescribing a litany of procedural
steps, but directs districts to choose so-called "simultaneous"
bilingual core instruction -- that is, instruction in the core curriculum
conducted in the students' primary language, accompanied by instru ction
to teach them English.
The bill requires LEP students both to be English language proficient
and to possess the academic skills comparable to other pupils of the same
grade level (in their school district) before they are permitted to transition
into the mainstream school curriculum and are taught in English.
As a result, a major flaw of this bill is that it redefines LEP students
as "English Learners" in such a way that a child may continue
to be designated as a LEP student and to be taught in the child's primary
language for years after the child has learned English.
A LEP student should be re-designated as English proficient solely using
criteria based on the attainment of English language fluency -- period.
Any other approach is inconsistent with the major goal of our education
system: a standard of literacy permitting students to achieve their personal
potential and professional or career goals, as early as possible.
Regrettably, the author of SB 6 was unwilling to make the extensive
and necessary changes to her bill that are required to deal with its flaws,
and to liberate children from the needless, artificial limits imposed upon
their learning ability by bilingual education.
In every society throughout history, education has been the path of
upward mobility, and education begins with attaining fluency in the language
of the country. No child and no adult can fully participate in the culture
or the commerce of California without gaining fluency in English. Until
children can read, write and speak English fluently, they are relegated
to second-class citizenship.