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Accord Is Reached On Bill To Extend Bilingual-Ed. Act

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WASHINGTON--Citing the need "to keep bilingual education alive,'' Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee struck a compromise last week with the program's critics: Future funding increases would go primarily for "English only'' methods, while support for native-language instruction would be guaranteed at current levels.

The surprise agreement, which angered advocates of bilingual education, was worked out in tortuous negotiations over the previous two weeks led by Representatives Dale E. Kildee, Democrat of Michigan, and Steve Bartlett, Republican of Texas.

The committee approved the compromise as part of HR 5, which would extend more than a dozen elementary- and secondary-education programs--including Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Indian education, and impact aid--through 1993. The measure now goes to the full House, where a vote is expected next month. Senate action is not expected until next year.

'Rancorous Debate'

Both sides expressed hope that the bipartisan accord would put an end to what Mr. Bartlett called the "rancorous debate'' over bilingual education, and that it would lead to increased funding for the program, known as Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

At the same time, some Democrats expressed reluctance about accepting the compromise. For example, Representative William D. Ford of Michigan said he supported it only because of "the political exigencies of the time.''

He added that his vote reflected no endorsement of "structured immersion'' in English--an approach that the Education Department has promoted as a promising alternative for limited-English-proficient children, but which Mr. Ford characterized as unproven and experimental.

"A program of native-language instruction is far more successful [than English-only alternatives] when measured in terms of academic achievement,'' he maintained.

Two Hispanic Democrats on the committee, Representatives Matthew G. Martinez of California and Bill Richardson of New Mexico, argued that the deal was not a true compromise.

"In effect,'' Mr. Martinez said, the Republicans "got everything they wanted,'' while giving up little. Mr. Richardson said the Congressional Hispanic Caucus may fight the bill on the House floor.

Compromise Provisions

The complex agreement would eliminate the current "4 percent cap'' on grants for English-only programs--a move advocated by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett for the past two years. At the same time, funding for programs using LEP students' native languages would be "held harmless'' at their current levels, plus an annual inflation adjustment.

The 1987 appropriations for instructional programs are: $81.6- million for basic transitional-bilingual-education grants; $5.5-million for English-only alternatives; $2.5 million for family English literacy; $250,000 for developmental (maintenance) bilingual education; $5 million for programs of academic excellence, and $9.3 million for other bilingual programs, such as gifted and talented and special education..

Also, the agreement would reduce the share of Title VII set aside for teacher training, from 25 percent to 20 percent, although the amount would not be cut below the current level of $33.6 million. Funding for testing, evaluation, and research--including grants to state education agencies--would receive no special protection.

If the Congress appropriates "new money'' for the program--amounts exceeding $143.1 million, plus inflation--from 70 percent to 75 percent would be earmarked for English-only programs, and the remainder for bilingual instruction.

In an interview after the vote, Mr. Kildee said he regretted the limitation on teacher-training funds at a time many districts face a growing shortage of bilingual teachers.

"It was not a happy compromise,'' he said, "but we had to get money from somewhere'' for the English-only programs.

Describing his role as "a damage-control mission,'' Mr. Kildee conceded that he had "lost some friends'' by agreeing to concessions.

"In substance, I certainly believe that transitional bilingual education is a very effective method,'' he said. "But it's not understood [by most members of the Congress].''

"The anti-bilingual smear job is growing,'' Mr. Kildee added. "The attacks are real in both [party] caucuses. It's not a Democrat-Republican issue. ... I can count votes. I am convinced that this compromise and strategy best serve bilingual education.''

'Ideology' Victorious

But advocates for LEP students criticized the committee for making its decision on political, rather than pedagogical, grounds.

"If there was a victory here, it was for political ideology,'' said Arturo Vargas, an education specialist for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group. "If there was a defeat, it was for quality education for language-minority children.''

"All the research shows that these English-only programs are the least effective,'' he added, "and now the committee has endorsed these least-effective programs. They weren't interested in what works.''

James J. Lyons, the legislative counsel for the National Association for Bilingual Education, characterized the outcome as "not a compromise, but an abrupt shift in federal policy--to say that the bulk of new money is going into English-only programs.''

"Whether you believe the General Accounting Office or whether you believe the department's own [immersion] study,'' he added, "to move away from native-language instruction is the wrong direction.''

The G.A.O.'s recent report, based on a survey of experts, took issue with the Education Department's arguments that research has not proven native-language instruction to be any more effective than such alternative approaches as immersion or English as a second language. In early results from the department's immersion study, bilingual-program students outperformed immersion students in all subjects tested, including English. (See Education Week, April 23, 1986.)

Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, the California Democrat who is chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, had cited the G.A.O. study in support of his proposal, HR 1755, to extend the current bilingual-education act with only minor changes.

But last week Mr. Hawkins joined in the compromise, saying, "I think we have to do away with some emotionalism and be pragmatic'' in order to keep the bilingual-education law from being "stricken altogether.''

The controversial targeting of additional funding to English-only programs would be a moot point, he predicted, arguing that "a lot of new money'' for Title VII is unlikely anytime soon.

Administration Position

Negotiators had used a hypothetical appropriation figure of $167 million for fiscal 1988, based on what was reported to be a promise by Secretary Bennett to support that request.

But William Kristol, Mr. Bennett's chief of staff, said last week that no such commitment had been made, although the Secretary has indicated that he would support more funding if the Congress provides "greater flexibility'' to allow support for various instructional approaches.

Mr. Kristol said the department plans to study the compromise further before taking a position on it.

But, he added, "Generally, we are heartened that there has been some movement toward flexibility. We would like to see a lot more.''

According to a high-ranking official, the department hopes to "get a better deal'' in the Senate--in particular, to eliminate the inflation protection for bilingual programs.

This week, the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee is expected to consider S 857, a proposal to raise the "cap'' on English-only programs to 25 percent. But the measure--sponsored by Senators Dan Quayle, Republican of Indiana, and Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island--would only amend current law through 1988.

Because the House has no plans to consider this bill, and because the Senate has much work to complete on its counterpart of HR 5, final action on the bilingual-education issue is unlikely before the spring or summer of 1988, according to Capitol Hill observers.

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