June, 1998

Proposition 227
English Language in Public Schools

Proposition 227
Education. Public Schools.
English as Required Language of Instruction.
Initiative Statute


California's public schools serve 5.6 million students in kindergarten through twelfth (K-12) grades. In 1996-97, schools identified 1.4 million, or 25 percent, of these students as "limited English proficient" (LEP). These are students who cannot understand English well enough to keep up in school. Eighty-eight percent of the state's schools had at least one LEP student, and 71 percent had at least 20 LEP students.

Under current law, schools must make their lessons understandable to LEP students. To help schools address the needs of these students, the State Department of Education created guidelines for the development of local LEP programs. These guidelines state:

How Are Students Currently Served?

Schools currently use a range of services to help LEP students (1) learn how to speak, read, and write English; and (2) learn academic subjects (such as math, reading, writing, history, and science).

Services to Help Students Learn English. Almost all LEP students get special services to help them learn English. These services are often provided during a part of the school day, separate from lessons on regular academic subjects.

Services to Help Students Learn Academic Subjects. Most LEP students receive special help in their academic subjects in one of two basic ways:

The remaining 30 percent of LEP students do not receive special help in their academic subjects. This is either because they do not need it or because the school does not provide it. These students are taught their academic subjects in regular classrooms.

How Long Do Students Receive LEP Services? State guidelines say that schools should give LEP students special services until (1) they can read, write, and understand English as well as average English speakers in their grade; and (2) they can participate equally with fluent speakers in the classroom. Schools report that LEP students often receive special services for many years.

How Are LEP Services Funded? The state currently provides over $400 million in special funds for students--both LEP and non-LEP--who need extra help to succeed in school. These funds are known as "compensatory" funds. Schools report that the majority of this money is spent for LEP students. In addition, schools may spend federal and local funds for special services for LEP students.


This proposition significantly changes the way that LEP students are taught in California. Specifically, it:

Exceptions. Schools would be permitted to provide classes in a language other than English if the child's parent or guardian asks the school to put him or her in such a class and one of the following happens:

If a school lets 20 or more LEP students in a grade choose to take their lessons in a language other than English, then the school must give such a class. If there are not 20 students or more, then the school must let the students go to other schools that have classes in those languages.

Funding Provisions. The initiative requires the state to provide $50 million every year for ten years for English classes for adults who promise to tutor LEP students. In addition, the measure requires that any special funding currently spent on LEP students be maintained, if possible.

Fiscal Impact

School Costs and Savings

This proposition would result in several fiscal impacts on schools.

Savings. By limiting the time LEP students can be in special classes generally to one year, the initiative would reduce the number of special classes schools would have to offer. This could result in major savings for schools.

Costs. The proposition could also result in new costs to schools, for a number of reasons. For instance, the one-year special classes could be more expensive than existing classes if schools provide more intensive services. Schools may also need to give LEP students extra help in academic subjects once they are moved to regular classes if they fall behind other students.

Distribution of "Compensatory" Funds. The state provides "compensatory" funds to schools based in part on the number of LEP students. The proposition would likely reduce the number of students who are considered LEP at any given time. As a result, state funds would be allocated differently--some schools would get more compensatory funds and others would get less.

Net Impact on Schools. We cannot predict the proposition's net impact on schools. It would depend in large part on how people respond to its passage, including:

The net impact could vary significantly by individual school.

State Fiscal Effects

Under the proposition, the state would spend $50 million each year for ten years for English classes for adults who promise to tutor LEP students. This provision, however, probably would not change total state spending for schools. (This is because the level of state spending for K-12 schools is generally based on a formula in the Constitution.) As a result, the costs to the state of this provision would likely reduce spending on other school programs by a like amount.

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