Federal

Bill in Congress Would Step Up Programs for ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 14, 2009 2 min read

For the second summer in a row, U.S. Rep. Michael M. Honda, a Democrat from California, has introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress that would increase federal funding for English-language instruction. The bill has also been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York.

The goal of the bill is to help immigrants to become integrated into U.S. society through English and civics classes and with incentives to businesses to support such classes, according to a description on Honda’s Web site. See coverage of the business incentives in the bill by AFP.

The bill in the House, H.R. 3249, calls for an increase in funding for U.S. Department of Education programs for ELLs from $70 million to $200 million in fiscal 2010.

The money is expected to be channeled to adult English-language learners through the Workforce Investment Act, not the No Child Left Behind Act, according to an aide to Honda, who answered my questions about the bill through e-mail. Particularly, the increased funds are likely to be appropriated to the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act programs under the Workforce Investment Act, which serve people who aren’t enrolled in secondary school, he said. Some of them may be out-of-school youths as young as 16.

The bill includes tax breaks for teachers of English-language learners who teach at least 20 hours a week. Teachers would be eligible for a tax break of $1,500 for each of the first five years of the measure’s implementation and $1,000 for each of the following five years. The Honda aide said his interpretation of the bill is that the money wouldn’t go to any teacher certified to teach ELLs and who is on the job, but rather only those who are actually teaching English as a second language or bilingual education classes. (I’m thinking that the authors of the bill may not be aware of how many different renditions there are of ESL and bilingual classes in U.S. schools, and how difficult it might be to determine whether a teacher is a specialist or not in working with ELLs.)

Teachers would also be able to deduct on their income tax forms expenses that they incur for getting certified to teach ELLs. Businesses can get tax credits to offset the cost of providing adult English literacy and basic education programs.

Last summer, both Honda and then New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton introduced a bill for English-language learners in the Congress. That bill called for a boost in funding for the Even Start Family Literacy program, but that program has been axed in the proposed fiscal 2010 budget pending in Congress.

The Government Accountability Office recently put out a report saying that efforts by the federal government to support adult English-learning need more coordination.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.