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When it comes to addressing the state’s shortage of bilingual teachers, there’s good news and bad news. First, the bad news: The shortage is serious. According to a survey conducted last year by Californians Together, a majority of California K-12 school districts (53%) reported having a shortage of bilingual teachers, and nearly 1 in 4 of all districts (23%) characterized it as a major shortage. In the aftermath of Proposition 58, a ballot measure approved in 2016 that removed longstanding restrictions on bilingual education, a majority of K-12 districts (58%) planned to expand their bilingual programs. However, a large share of these districts (86%) said that their current supply of bilingual teachers is insufficient to staff an expansion of their bilingual education programs.

The good news is that there are opportunities to make progress in addressing this shortage in the near term. California schools already employ thousands of teachers who have bilingual teaching certifications but who work in English-only classrooms. Last year’s budget package provided $5 million to create the Bilingual Teacher Professional Development Program, a competitive grant program that provides training and support for teachers already authorized to teach English learners, but who have taught in English-only classrooms for at least three years. The program also is designed to help train bilingual paraprofessionals who want to become bilingual teachers.

When it convenes in the coming days, the Legislature’s Budget Conference Committee could opt to take further steps toward addressing the bilingual teacher shortage. Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 2 approved an additional $5 million in one-time funding for the Bilingual Teacher Professional Development Program as well as $25 million for teacher residencies in bilingual education and other areas facing shortages. The Assembly plan also includes $50 million in one-time funding for scholarships for potential teachers who commit to teaching in a high-need area, such as bilingual education. Because the Senate does not include dollars for these Assembly priorities, the issue will be among those decided during the Budget Conference Committee. Whatever agreement is reached between the two houses of the Legislature will also need to be approved by the Governor.

Improving outcomes for English learners — who currently account for more than one-fifth of K-12 students in our state — is a critical part of working to ensure that all California students receive a quality education. This is why there is much at stake in how state leaders approach addressing the bilingual teacher shortage.

— Jonathan Kaplan

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