California Proposition 227, the "English in Public Schools" Initiative (1998)

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California Proposition 227, also called the English Language in Public Schools Statute, was on the June 2, 1998 statewide primary ballot in California as an initiated state statute. It was approved.

Proposition 227 changed the way that "Limited English Proficient" (LEP) students are taught in California. Specifically, it:

  • Requires California public schools to teach LEP students in special classes that are taught nearly all in English. This provision had the effect of eliminating "bilingual" classes in most cases.
  • Shortens the time most LEP students stay in special classes.
  • Proposition 227 eliminated most programs in the state that provided multi-year special classes to LEP students by requiring that (1) LEP students should move from special classes to regular classes when they have acquired a good working knowledge of English and (2) these special classes should not normally last longer than one year.
  • Required the state government to provide $50 million every year for ten years for English classes for adults who promise to tutor LEP students.

Proposition 227 was drafted by Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur, and Gloria Mata Tuchman, a Santa Ana teacher.[1]

Election results

Proposition 227
Approveda Yes 3,582,423 61.28%


  • According to a 2009 analysis, "Hispanic test scores on a range of subjects have risen since Proposition 227 became law."[1]
  • Some school districts responded by defining Prop 227's requirement that they teach “overwhelmingly in English” as teaching in English for 51 percent of the school day (the Los Angeles school district) or 60% of the day (the Riverside and Vista school districts).[1]

Campaign spending


Supporters of Proposition 227 spent $997,042. The top contributors to pass the measure were:

  • Ron Keeva Unz: $752,738
  • Fieldstead & Co.: $130,000
  • Richard Gilder: $90,000
  • William A. Dunn: $75,000
  • William J. Hume: $50,000
  • Harry Teasley: $25,000
  • Jacobs Engineering Group: $10,000
  • Lincoln Club of Orange County: $10,000
  • Virginia Gilder: $10,000
  • John F. Blokker: $10,000


Opponents of Proposition 227 spent $4,823,470. The top contributors to defeat the measure were:

Ballot language


The ballot title was:

English Language in Public Schools. Initiative Statute.


Proposition 227.PNG

The official ballot summary for Proposition 227 was:

  • Requires all public school instruction be conducted in English.
  • Requirement may be waived if parents or guardian show that child already knows English, or has special needs, or would learn English faster through alternate instructional technique.
  • Provides initial short-term placement, not normally exceeding one year, in intensive sheltered English immersion programs for children not fluent in English.
  • Appropriates $50 million per year for ten years funding English instruction for individuals pledging to provide personal English tutoring to children in their community.
  • Permits enforcement suits by parents and guardians.

Fiscal impact (summary)

The California Legislative Analyst's Office provided a summarized estimate of net state and local government fiscal impact for Proposition 227. That estimate was:

"Impacts on individual school districts would depend on how schools, parents, and the state respond to the proposition's changes. These impacts could vary significantly by district."
"Requires state spending of $50 million per year for ten years to teach tutors of limited English proficient students. Total state spending on education, however, probably would not change."


The California Legislative Analyst's Office prepared a "background" statement about Proposition 227 for the state's Voter Guide. It said:

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:
  • The main goal of all programs is to make LEP students fluent in English.
  • Programs must allow LEP students to do well in all school work. In some cases, this means teaching some subjects to LEP students in their home languages.
  • Schools must allow all LEP students the option of being in bilingual programs. A bilingual program is one in which students are taught both in their home language and in English.
  • Schools must allow parents to choose whether or not their children are in bilingual programs.
  • 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:
  1. Lessons That Use Special Materials. About 40 percent of all LEP students are taught their academic subjects in English. The class materials and teaching methods for these students, however, are specially designed for students who do not speak English well.
  2. Lessons That Are Taught in Students' Home Language. About 30 percent of all LEP students are taught some or all of their academic subjects in their home languages. These are what people usually refer to as bilingual classes. 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.

Fiscal impact (detailed)

The California Legislative Analyst's Office prepared a detailed statement of the likely fiscal impact of Proposition 227 for the state's Voter Guide. It said:

  • 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:
  • Parents' decisions on the types of services they want for their children.
  • Schools' decisions on the types and levels of services provided to LEP students.
  • State decisions on the allocation of "compensatory" funds it currently provides to schools with LEP students.
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."

See also

External links