English-Language Learners

Bias Is Charged In Awarding of Bilingual Grants

By Julie A. Miller — March 15, 1989 5 min read

Washington--The Education Department plans to give bilingual-education grants to “special alternative” programs that scored lower in expert reviews than transitional bilingual programs that are not to be funded, a department source said last week.

The action apparently contradicts the public posture of the department that it does not favor one instructional approach over another in the $110-million grant program.

“There is an agreement between the Congress and the department that they would fund applications based on quality, and that’s not what’s happening here,” the source said.

In addition, the department official said that a new, additional bilingual-education competition announced last week was ainued on Page 29

Bias in Bilingual-Grant Awards Is Alleged

Continued from Page 1

veiled attempt to funnel more money to “alternative” programs, most of which teach children only in English.

Alicia C. Coro, acting director of the office of bilingual education and minority-language affairs, said in an interview last week that the department is making grants “based on quality, not instructional approach.”

The new competition, she said, is aimed at securing funds for underserved, recent immigrant groups and not at favoring one approach.

Department officials maintained throughout the Reagan Administration--and still maintain--that they do not favor one form of instruction. Instead, they say, they want to allow local educators to decide which method to use, and fund all types.

Until 1984, only “transitional” programs, which use students’ native languages, were eligible for federal funds. Reagan Administration officials repeatedly sought to shift some federal funds from transitional to alternative programs amid opposition from bilingual-education groups.

In 1984, the Administration persuaded the Congress to allow a maximum of 4 percent of bilingual-education funds to flow to alternative programs. A compromise provision of last year’s Hawkins-Stafford reauthorization law raised the cap to 25 percent.

Bilingual-education advocates said last fall that they feared the department would spend as much as possible on alternative programs, regardless of how many applications they received in each category or the quality of the applications.

Ms. Coro said that the department was still negotiating with many grantees and that she could not yet say how many grants would be awarded to each type of program.

The department source said, however, that obemla plans, at least initially, to fund 75 new tbe programs and 76 alternative programs, for a total of 151. A spot check of some of the school districts slated for grants indicated that the grant-making process is proceeding along the lines suggested by the source.

But the department received many more applications for transitional programs--274 as compared with 159, according to Ms. Coro. And documents obtained by Education Week indicate that more tbe applications received high review scores than did proposals for alternative programs.

James J. Lyons, legislative counsel to the National Association for Bilingual Education, noted that 5 of the 20 extra points that could be earned by applicants meeting certain criteria were available only to alternative programs, giving them a small advantage in the scoring.

“They didn’t do well anyway,” Mr. Lyons said. “The results don’t show this overwhelming demand for English-only programs. And the kinds of English-only programs that have been proposed in many cases are just of very poor quality.”

The department source said none of the applicants slated for funding scored too low for consideration.

But the documents, which list applicants in ranked order, indicate that 79 tbe applicants achieved higher review scores than the lowest-scoring alternative program slated for funding.

If 150 awards were made strictly according to the ranked scores, the documents indicate, twice as many would go to transitional programs as to alternative programs.

The department source said Ms. Coro had agreed to use some of the funds likely to be left over after the slated 151 grants are negotiated to fund more tbe projects, “so that this wouldn’t look too embarrassing.”

But even if all the leftover funds were given to tbe applicants, the source said, it is likely that fewer than half of the higher-scoring programs not currently on the funding list would get grants.

Ms. Coro would not comment on whether obemla would pass over higher-scoring applicants for lower-scoring ones, though she noted that the office could do that legally.

“I don’t think that’s the case, it may or may not be true,” she said.

“We are going by quality, and if the implication is that the Education Department is willing to fund programs not based on quality, I challenge that,” Ms. Coro said. “We will stop at a point where we believe the quality [of applications] is the minimum for offering these educational services.”

Ms. Coro later noted that alternative programs generally cost less, and that the department can serve more children with the same amount of money by funding them.

“Eighty percent of the money will go to transitional bilingual education,” she said. “We don’t have a big conspiracy here not to fund [transitional programs].”

About $80 million altogether is likely to be spent on new and continuing tbe grants, as compared with about $17 million for alternative programs, she said. Under the 25-percent cap, the department could spend as much as $27 million of the $110.7 million appropriated for 1989 on alternative programs.

New Program’s ‘Preference’

Ms. Coro also rebutted the charge that the $2-million new competition proposed last week is designed to benefit alternative programs.

The competition would give an “absolute preference” to applicants seeking to provide services to “students who have not previously received services” under federally aided programs, she said. In addition, applicant districts may not have previously provided federally funded services “in the native language of those students to be served.”

The department’s March 7 Federal Register notice says the program aims to aid “new immigrant populations” who are “introducing new languages and cultures into many school systems whose existing bilingual programs were designed for other languages.”

“We’re trying to respond to numerous inquiries from school officials on the need for federal funds to serve localities where they’ve had an influx of children and have not had Title VII monies before,” Ms. Coro said, as well as to serve children who speak languages for which their districts have no program.

Critics say these are by definition districts more likely to use alternative programs, since transitional programs are impractical for small, diverse groups. And eliminating previous grantees cuts out many large districts, critics say, which tend to favor the use of tbe

A version of this article appeared in the March 15, 1989 edition of Education Week as Bias Is Charged In Awarding of Bilingual Grants

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