Judge rules that Reading First funds available to bilingual students
March 28, 2003


For more information contact: Deborah Escobedo, META - (415) 546-6382

March 28, 2003


State Board Failed to Provide Notice and Obtain Public Input Prior to Excluding Alternative Bilingual Classrooms From Participation in Reading First Program

San Francisco, CA----At the request of parents and nonprofit organizations throughout the State, San Francisco Judge Ronald Evans Quidachay issued orders yesterday blocking the California State Board of Education and the California Department of Education from continuing their unlawful and exclusionary implementation of the federal Reading First grant program. The State had sought to prevent English Learner students enrolled in bilingual waiver programs from having access to the Reading First funds. At issue were eligibility criteria created behind closed doors that prohibited bilingual classrooms (implemented pursuant to waiver provisions of Proposition 227) from participation unless their curriculum included 2.5 hours of an English-only reading/language arts program designed for native English speakers. While all bilingual classrooms provide English Language Development instruction and teach children English, bilingual programs generally teach children technical reading and writing skills in their primary language and transition them into an English only reading/language arts program upon a demonstrated level of proficiency in English.

The orders issued by Judge Quidachay direct the State to immediately cease implementing or applying eligibility requirements that exclude Proposition 227 waiver classrooms from participating in Reading First, until such time as the State complies with the notice, filing and comment provisions of the California Administrative Procedure Act. The orders also require the State to inform all school districts, in writing, that the deadline to submit or supplement applications for funding has been reopened and extended to April 16, 2003 so that all schools meeting NCLB criteria (including Proposition 227 waiver classrooms) may submit applications for funding and have them considered without application of the rule that reading/language arts instruction be conducted in English only.

Part of the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB), Reading First is a $900 million federal grant program targeted at improving reading for K-3rd grade students nation wide. States apply for grants and are awarded monies to implement the program at high need schools—usually poor and under served schools--through a competitive sub-grant program among eligible school districts. California was awarded $133 million dollars for FY 2002 and is expected to receive a similar amount each year for six years. The federal government does not impose restrictive eligibility requirements for classrooms offering bilingual programs.

Lead attorney Deborah Escobedo of Multicultural, Education, Training and Advocacy (META) was very pleased with the result. “This is a significant victory for parents of limited English proficient students throughout California. Many districts with some of the poorest schools in the State did not apply for the funding because of the illegal rule. Now they will have the opportunity to receive funding that will enable them to train the teachers of some of the neediest children in the State.” she said. “It is also imperative for school districts that have already applied to amend their applications if they excluded LEP children in bilingual programs because of the exclusionary eligibility rule.”

Education Advisor for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Denis O’Leary, explained that, “This ruling orders the State Board of Education to recognize the section of Proposition 227 which gives parents the right to select bilingual instruction for their children. English immersion has shown a 93% failure rate over the past 5 years to make students English fluent, parents are reacting to this failure and seeking bilingual waivers under the law. Unfortunately the State Board of Education has restricted districts who abided by the law by not allowing them to receive federal Reading First funds. Today’s ruling will send the message that parents are not to be punished for selecting bilingual instruction nor will the district be penalized for following the law.”

The coalition filing the suit includes a diverse group of parents and nonprofit groups from throughout the state, including the California Association for Bilingual Education, League of United Latin American Citizens, Californians Together, Parents for Unity, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Comite Pro Educacion, Excellence and Justice in Education, Frente Indigena Aoxaqueño Binacional, California Latino Civil Rights Network. In addition to META, petitioners are represented by California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., Youth Law Center, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Public Interest Law Firm.