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Language Study Said National Priority

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Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell last week drew a standing ovation from a group of school-level directors of bilingual-education programs when he told them that the study of languages should be a major national priority.

Mr. Bell, appearing at a meeting sponsored by the Education Department's Office of Bilingual Education and Minorities Languages Affairs (obemla), attacked the "benign neglect" toward bilingual education that he said was prevalent until recently. "I can't think of a program that needs more assistance from us," he said.

The Secretary said the call for more study of foreign languages made by the National Commission on Excellence in Education "is not being pushed hard enough." He said bilingual educators would be a "valuable resource" for improving language instruction for all students, regardless of their language background.

Other ed officials outlined how the Reagan Administration will shift priorities within bilingual-education programs and research.

The Administration is seeking appropriations of $139.2 million for bilingual-education programs in fiscal-year 1985--about $120,000 less than those programs are receiving during the current fiscal year.

The funds for bilingual education, while stable overall, would be shift-ed slightly from training and support services to direct grants to local districts.

Nancy Rhett, a budget analyst for obemla, said the shift reflects the Administration's desire to increase local control of bilingual-education funds.

Appropriations for basic grants and demonstration grants to districts would increase from $89.6 million to $100.5 million in fiscal 1985, Ms. Rhett said.

Funding for training grants would fall from $32.6 million to $25 million, and funding for support services would decline from $13.5 million to $10.1 million.

Ms. Rhett repeated the Administration's call for amendments to the Bilingual Education Act of 1974. The Congress is scheduled to consider reauthorization of the measure this year.

The amendments would allow districts to offer several kinds of programs for other-language students, to give funding priority to district programs for students who speak no English, and to increase the state's role in monitoring bilingual-education programs.

Gilbert N. Garcia, research manager for obemla, said the department's research agenda reflects the Administration's commitment to local control and increasing family choices in education programs.

--ce

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