In the mid-1990s, conditions were right for California to build the multilingual economy of the future. A slumping economy needed a boost. A remarkably multilingual population — including millions of Spanish speakers — was already in place.
But in 1998, with globalization knocking ever more loudly on its door, Californians voted instead to pass a ballot measure known as Proposition 227 that imposed wide-reaching restrictions on bilingual education, effectively banning it.
They were convinced that California’s language diversity — especially its Spanish — was a problem to be eradicated, rather than a resource to be developed.
In the 16 years since the measure was approved, California has largely squandered one of its most valuable economic and cultural resources.
Millions of Spanish-speaking immigrant students lost the opportunity to learn or retain valuable literacy skills in Spanish while they acquired English. And, millions of California-born Latinos who enrolled in school with the gift of native bilingualism would later leave school unable to read and write in Spanish.