Senate Panel Will Include Bilingual Education in Omnibus Reauthorization Bill
By Julie A. Miller
Washington--The Senate education subcommittee plans to include reauthorization of the federal bilingual-education program in an omnibus bill that will be drafted this fall. That move sets the stage for resolution of the controversy over how much federal funding will be available for "English only" alternative programs.
The panel does not plan to hold further hearings on bilingual education, according to a subcommittee aide, but will "almost certainly" address it in the Senate counterpart of HR 5, the omnibus education bill passed by the House in April.
Like the House bill, the Senate measure will contain reauthorizing language for the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, Chapter 2 block grants, and several other education programs due to expire. It may contain new initiatives as well, such as a proposed $150-million computer-education grant program.
The subcommittee will hold its final hearing for the bill Sept. 18--a session that will deal with programs for gifted and talented children and a proposal for health-education grants.
The panel's leadership had been undecided for months on whether to include Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act--the4federal bilingual program--in the omnibus bill or put off the bilingual-education issue until later in the session.
The full Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee approved legislation in May that would raise from 4 percent to 25 percent the proportion of funding under Title VII that could be used for English-only approaches, which bilingual-education advocates argue have not been proved effective. However, the measure would not reauthorize Title VII and was never acted on by the Senate.
HR 5 would remove the 4 percent cap, as proposed by the Reagan Administration, but ensure current funding levels for bilingual programs, essentially earmarking any additional funding for alternative programs.
The English-only issue was raised in a different context last month at a Senate hearing on the Adult Education Act, another of the expiring programs. Bonnie Guiton, the Education Department's assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, presented the Administration's proposals for the a.e.a., which include a provision specifically allowing nonbilingual instruction for adults with limited English proficiency.
HR 5, while falling short of that proposal, would change the law to support "adequate appropriate language assistance," rather than "bilingual adult-education programs."
The House bill would also increase reporting and evaluation requirements for states, decrease the federal share of program funding from 90 percent to 80 percent, and hike the program's authorization ceiling from $140 million to $200 million--a level Ms. Guiton termed "excessive."
Arguing that current levels of illiteracy impair the nation's ability to compete in a technological age, several senators and adult educators urged the Senate panel to inel10lclude a similar expansion of funding.
Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, also lobbied the subcommittee for a new, separate $50-million literacy program aimed at non-English-speaking adults. His proposal was included in HR 3, the massive trade bill passed by the House in April.
Also appearing at the hearing was Senator Bill Bradley, Democrat of New Jersey, who urged support for S 1157, legislation he sponsors that would provide $20 million for demonstration projects aimed at increasing family involvement in the schools.
Another August hearing featured junior-high-school students from Hartford, Conn., and Newark, N.J., demonstrating original computer programs on a wide-screen hookup. The demonstration was in support of a computer-education initiative being considered for inclusion in the omnibus Senate bill.
S 838, sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, would provide $150 million over three years to help school districts purchase hardware and software. Half the money would be earmarked for districts with many disadvantaged students, under the formula that allocates Chapter 1 funds.
Senator Lautenberg and a parade of educators told the subcommittee that while Chapter 1 money has been used to purchase computer equipment, a broad technology gap remains between affluent and poor school districts.
"Technology is expensive, innovation is expensive," said Thelma Dickerson, a school-board member from Hartford who represented the National School Boards Association.
"If access to technology depends on the ability of each district to afford it," she said, growing disparities between districts "may threaten the very concept of education as the great equalizer."
"The distribution of computers is very uneven, particularly in the critical early years," Ms. Dickerson continued. "Even within the same district, schools in low-income areas have about twice as many students per computer as schools in affluent areas."
Ironically, several educators noted, computers can be especially helpful to disadvantaged students and children with limited proficiency in English.
Many of the computer graphics that flashed across the hearing room, for example, were created by limited-English-proficient students in a Hartford program supported by bilingual-education grants.