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Published in Print: June 17, 1998, as House Bill Would Alter Federal Bilingual Ed. Policy

House Bill Would Alter Federal Bilingual Ed. Policy

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Just two days after Californians voted to eliminate nearly all bilingual education in the state's public schools, the Education and the Workforce Committee of the U.S. House also weighed in on the issue. The committee on June 4 approved HR 3892, the English Language Fluency Act, by a vote of 22-17. Sponsored by Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Calif., HR 3892 would make fundamental changes to the federal Bilingual Education Act.

The government now offers grants for support services and professional development related to educating limited-English-proficient students. And schools may apply for competitive grants to support classroom programs for LEP students. Most of the money is spent on bilingual education--programs in which students are taught in their native languages as well as in English. No more than 25 percent of federal grant money can be spent on "special alternative instructional programs," which use only English.

Under provisions of a separate immigrant education law, states receive federal dollars based on the number of immigrants in their schools. For the current fiscal year, Congress has provided $350 million through the bilingual and immigrant education acts.

HR 3892 would roll the bilingual education and immigrant education laws into a single block grant to states based on the number of LEP students in their schools. Supporters say the federal dollars could be used in a range of programs, from bilingual education to English-immersion approaches. And they say the bill offers maximum parental choice in what kind of programs receive federal support.

Critics say that the bill would eliminate the focus on teacher preparation and that money would no longer be targeted to the neediest schools or those with the best programs.

Among other requirements, HR 3892 also stipulates that:

  • At least 90 percent of the federal dollars be used for instruction;
  • Parents grant permission before their children are placed in a special program; and
  • Federal dollars not be used to help students enrolled in a program for more than three years.

--LYNN SCHNAIBERG

Vol. 17, Issue 40, Page 6

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