Proposition 227- The Anti Bilingual Education Initiative of 1996

California Proposition 227- The Attack on bilingual education

No on Proposition 227 Rally at the Capitol. 
Attacks on Bilingual Education

  Even though bilingual education has provided a positive and supportive environment for the academic and social growth of many language-minority students, politically motivated opposition to bilingual education has prevailed in most states. The mobilization of conservative forces throughout the nation in the 1980’s  and 1990’s attacked taxes, schools, and bilingual education. Since  the 1990s, these same groups frequently attacked multicultural education as divisive to national unity. Some English speakers are offended that immigrant children are taught in their native tongue for part of the day. Political leaders argue that bilingualism handicaps children.</P>

 Like the debates on affirmative action, conservatives have created the deception that minorities are gaining an advantage, that bilingual education is discrimination against European Americans (Guinier, 2002; Krashen, 2002). The attacks on bilingualism continue with voters in several states voting for antibilingual education measures.

 In June 1998, California’s electorate ( then 69 percent European American) responded to crises in the state’s educational system by passing Proposition 227, which effectively abolishes bilingual education for immigrant children (whose parents are often not citizens and cannot vote) by making the use of other languages for instruction illegal except under special circumstances. Latinos made up 29.4 percent of the population and more than 36 percent of schoolage children, but only 12 percent of voters. Results shown below from exit polls conducted by the Los Angeles Times indicate the vote on Proposition 227 by ethnic group.

After a volatile political campaign, California voters adopted Proposition 227, the so-called “English for the Children” initiative drafted by advocate Ron Unz. This law dramatically altered the regulations for how English would be taught in California schools. Since 1998, similar initiatives have passed in Arizona and Massachusetts but defeated in Colorado. This new law mandated intensive “Sheltered English Immersion” as the instructional strategy for 10 months and banned bilingual education in most circumstances. As a result, fewer than 10 percent of the English language learners in California currently receive bilingual education (CDE, 2001).

Voting Patterns by Ethnicity 1998 — Proposition 227




<TB>European American









African American



The Asian vote, less than 4% of the total, is widely diverse from Chinese American to Vietnamese. Useful conclusions cannot be drawn from this limited sample.

The public debate on bilingual education often deals with a false dichotomy of choosing either English or the home language. All immigrant parents want their children to learn English. Both languages are valuable. Bilingual advocates urge that the nation should gain from the language resources of its immigrant communities while antibilingual advocates stress the need for national cohesion through one language.

In January 2002, Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as the Bilingual Education Act, expired with no appreciable Congressional support. It was not renewed and is no longer law. In its place are new provisions of President Bush’s (PL 107–110) that significantly abolish most efforts at bilingual education and substitute increased funding for English language acquisition efforts. The 34-year federal effort to investigate and experiment with bilingual education at the federal level has ended. Antibilingual education forces have won. Even the Office of Bilingual Education has been renamed to be the Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited-English-Proficient Students. English learning has always been the primary function of this office, but now even the limited efforts to learn in a home language are discouraged and not funded (Crawford, 2002).


The Proposition 227 campaign in Sacramento.

The Campaign against Bilingual Education. Proposition 227.  (1998) Analysis of No on 227 Campaign.

            Sacramento created a committee called Defend the Children to oppose Proposition 227.  Duane Campbell (DSA) was the chair.

Don Trujillo was the first staff person.  The position was partially funded by the Latino Civil Rights Network.  We had an office in a local union office.

By March 1998 , Angel Picon  (DSA) became the staff person.   We raised money and organized a campaign.

The following is from Our Struggle/Nuestra Lucha, the Newsletter of Democratic Socialists of America. ( produced in Sacramento).  Vol.16, No. 2.  Summer 1998. It is re typed because we do not have the digital original.

The Latino Commission and the Anti Racism commission ( of DSA) provided the backbone of the campaign  to defeat Prop.227 , the anti bilingual education initiative in Sacramento. This is the third electoral campaign which we have fought; proposition 187 (anti immigrant), proposition 209 (anti affirmative action) .

Proposition 227 was a California ballot proposition that prohibits current successful program which teach English to immigrants students. The initiative requires that on Sept. 1998, the 1.38 million limited English speaking children be put into mainstream classrooms-regardless of their differences in age or languages – to be taught exclusively in English.  Proposition 227 outlaws current successful programs designed by teachers to teach children English.

The growing Latino vote. 

Latino presence at the polls continued an upward trend in 1998, amounting to 12% of all California voters- double the number who voted in the 1994 primary on Pro.187. Latinos comprise 29.4% of the state population.  In polls, they opposed the proposition by a margin of 2 to 1.

Photos from the campaign exist.