Bilingual-Education Grant Process Questioned
Washington--As it goes through the process of awarding bilingual-education grants the Education Department is facing renewed controversy over which types of programs it chooses to fund--despite a Congressional attempt to settle the issue in recent legislation.
Reagan Administration officials have sought for several years--over the strong opposition of bilingual-education groups--to shift some funds from "transitional" programs, which use limited-English-proficient students' native languages, to "alternative" efforts, most of which teach such children only in English.
Members of the Congress sought to resolve the issue in the Hawkins-Stafford reauthorization bill this year, with a compromise allowing up to 25 percent of funds to go to alternative programs.
But bilingual groups and their Congressional allies last week said they were still worried that the officials would manipulate the grant process to give an unfair advantage to English-only methods.
They said they see a sinister motive in the department's decision to hold the grant competition unusually early this year. Conservatives in the department, they argue, pushed up the deadline to ensure that Reagan appointees made the awards--and thus guarantee that the alternatives receive the maximum amount.
Advocates and legislators also say they are disappointed in the department's decision not to invite applications this year for developmental programs, which can include English-speaking students and seek to develop bilingualism as well as to teach English.
In addition, advocates are angry about the department's determination to continue restricting travel by grantees, despite a provision of the Hawkins-Stafford Act designed to force ed to abandon the restrictions.
During work on the reauthorization bill, Administration officials pushed hard for elimination of a 4 percent cap on funding for programs that do not use native-language instruction. They settled for an increase in the cap to 25 percent.
Raising the Ceiling
Although native-language programs are guaranteed a substantial portion of the available funds, schools with current grants are protected from cuts. That means that little money may be available for new applicants for funding for transitional programs.
In its Federal Register notice, the department estimated that new transitional and alternative programs would each have access to about the same amount of new money--between $14 million and $22 million.
Administration officials have consistently maintained that they do not favor only one form of instruction. Instead, they say, they want to allow local educators to decide which type of program to use.
Nevertheless, bilingual-education advocates expect the department to allot the maximum amount to "English-based" programs, even if it receives many more applications for bilingual programs.
"Given the history of the department's attitude toward bilingual education, it's obvious where they're going to put the money," said Denise De La Rosa, senior education-policy fellow at the National Council of La Raza. "Whatever they say about local choice, their whole attitude is to put more money into English-only programs."
In a recent interview, Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos said he supported bilingual education, but also accepted the Administration view that local educators should decide which methods to use. He said he was "not proposing that we change anything" in the department's approach to bilingual education.
Alicia C. Coro, director of the office of bilingual education and minority-language affairs, said in an interview last week that the department would decide how many grants to award in each category only after reviewing the applications. The review is to start next week.
She said obemla has received 276 applications for transitional bilingual grants and 170 for special alternative programs.
Pushing Up the Deadline
The application deadline for both transitional bilingual and special alternative grants was originally set at Oct. 7. According to James J. Lyons, legislative counsel for the National Association for Bilingual Education, that is about two months earlier than usual.
The department agreed to push back the deadline to Nov. 1, but only after Senator Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, threatened in July to hold up confirmation of Mr. Cavazos' nomination.
"The whole point is that they wanted to fund all the English-only programs before they left," said an aide to Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, the California Democrat who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee. "The people who were loyal to [former Secretary of Education William J.] Bennett are worried about the Bush people."
Ms. Coro said obemla had gradually moved up the timing of the awards process over the past few years in response to Congressional complaints that the grants were going out too late.
"We have tried the best we can to do it as early as possible so that schools have time to plan for the next school year," she said. "In the past, they usually ended up going out in the last quarter of the fiscal year. By doing it this way, we will issue them sometime in February or March."
Developmental Efforts Shut Out
Department officials have also heard complaints from Capitol Hill about their decision not to fund any developmental programs this year.
The refusal to consider funding developmental efforts, say critics, is at odds with the Administration's position in favor of local flexibility. But only two developmental programs have ever received grants, both in 1985.
Several legislators have written to Mr. Cavazos, asking him to reconsider. Congressional aides said that an attempt would be made to earmark some bilingual-education funds for developmental programs during the upcoming 1990 budget cycle.
Legislative backers of the developmental approach argue that it can help fill the nation's need for workers proficient in foreign languages, as well as helping lep children.
"An English-only mentality threatens to undercut the ability of our businessmen, soldiers, and diplomats to work effectively in today's world," Representative Matthew G. Martinez, Democrat of California, said last week.
Ms. Coro said that developmental bilingual education is "a fantastic idea," but that the department wants to concentrate the limited amount of available funds in programs that serve only lep children.
"This is a great concept and I support that concept, but the demand [for grants] is so great that the bulk of the money must go for aiding the lep children," she said.
Ms. Coro also denied charges that restrictive guidelines on the use of federal funds for travel, first issued in 1986, are designed to limit the ability of bilingual-education supporters to organize.
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are asked to formally justify, and obtain permission for, travel to any gathering other than workshops sponsored by the department.
"They want to do everything they can to discourage people from getting together to support bilingual education," said an aide to Mr. Hawkins, who placed language in this year's reauthorization bill designed to remove the travel restrictions.
Mr. Lyons said the department also wants to ensure that no federal funds go to organizations it disagrees with, such as nabe--for example, through conference registration fees.
Ms. Coro once told him, he said, that "'as long as I am head of obemla, not a dime of federal money will go to support nabe."'
"I certainly don't think it's my job to be giving federal funds to nabe," Ms. Coro said, but denied saying that no grantee would be allowed to use federal funds to attend profes4sional conferences.
"If they have workshops that will benefit the programs, we will approve the travel," she said. "We look at it on an individual basis. I don't think the public wants a federal office that will grant a blank check."
Mr. Hawkins's aide said the department cannot enforce guidelines that have not gone through the legislative or regulatory processes. Requiring teachers and administrators to obtain special permission for travel, the aide said, amounts to "intimidation tactics."
The reauthorization law prevents the department from applying restrictions "other than those set out in this title or other applicable federal statutes or regulations."
Ms. Coro said that the department's general operating rules allow its offices to ensure that grant funds are used appropriately. Moreover, she said, the general counsel had ruled that obemla's policy could continue.