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Published in Print: September 16, 1998, as Bilingual Ed. Legislation Passes House

Bilingual Ed. Legislation Passes House

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Washington

The House late last week approved a controversial Republican-backed bill that would overhaul federal bilingual education programs.

The bill, HR 3892, is not likely to win approval in the Senate before Congress adjourns next month. But it offers another foreshadowing of the GOP's goals for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, which is scheduled to begin next spring.

The proposed English Language Fluency Act, which passed 221-189, last Thursday would:

  • Convert funding for bilingual and immigrant education programs, which received $354 million for fiscal 1998, to a block grant;
  • Allow non-English-speaking students to spend no more than three years in bilingual education classes that receive federal funding, with a goal of having them become fluent in two years;
  • Nullify all compliance agreements related to bilingual education between states or districts and the Department of Education; and
  • Change the name of the Education Department's office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs to the office of English-language acquisition.

In a divisive debate on the House floor, Democrats charged that the bill would create a "top-down, one-size-fits-all" mandate that would strip educators' control over bilingual programs. "Leave education to educators," said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas.

Republicans countered that they were responding to just such complaints. "What we are trying to do now is to give the local school districts more control in determining the bilingual instruction they feel is most appropriate," said Rep. Franks Riggs, R-Calif., the bill's chief sponsor and the chairman of the House subcommittee on K-12 education.

--JOETTA L. SACK

Vol. 18, Issue 2, Page 24

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