October 2011 President Obama is committed to doing what is right for the American people, for jobs, and... Read More
March 2005 Defending Bilingual Education in Texas
Bilingual educators in Texas are engaged in a fierce battle to protect the current system for funding their programs and to increase state aid for educating English language learners. Because of the high stakes involved – not only in Texas but ultimately nationwide – NABE is financing a lobbying effort in Austin to ensure that bilingual educators’ voices are heard.
HB 2, which passed the Texas House on March 11, would dismantle the “weights” system under which school districts receive an extra percentage, over and above their basic allotment, for educating special populations including limited-English-proficient, low income, gifted and talented, and special education students. The bill would substitute a flat dollar amount that would no longer increase automatically along with other school costs, thus requiring advocates to return each year to fight for equitable appropriations. In addition, it would provide funding in the form of a “block grant” that schools could divert for purposes other than serving ELLs.
The Republican-backed measure now moves to the Texas Senate, where its future is uncertain because of broad opposition from school districts and education organizations. Bilingual education advocates are optimistic that Senate leaders will stand firm for retention of the weights system while also increasing levels of funding for ELLs.
Currently, Texas programs for ELLs receive a weight of 0.1 – that is, 10 percent – in supplemental funding, which equals about $450 annually. The gross inadequacy of this amount was highlighted in a recent court case, West Orange Cove v. Neeley. A representative the Texas Education Agency testified that a weight of 0.3 would more accurately reflect the real cost of educating students whose English is limited. Other education advocates testified that a weight of 0.4 was the bare minimum needed for ELLs.
HB 2 would provide a flat $500 for ELL students in grades K-8 and $1,000 in grades 9-12.
Working with ENABLE (Effective Network for the Advancement of Bilingual Education), a grassroots group based in Dallas, NABE is contributing resources to this fight. The funds are being used to employ an experienced and well connected lobbyist, Jesse Romero, to represent the interests of ELLs in the Texas legislature.
In the past, NABE has seldom engaged in legislative campaigns at the state level. But that policy is changing along with the politics of bilingual education and the impact of No Child Left Behind. State legislation – especially in large states like Texas – have national implications that cannot be ignored.
More now than ever, advocates for bilingual education need to make common cause with colleagues throughout the country. Where NABE’s help is needed, we plan to respond.
Fighting English Only in Maryland NABE joined forces with education and immigrant rights advocates on March 9 to oppose English Only legislation in Maryland. If passed, the bill would not only designate English as the state’s official language. It would also outlaw many bilingual services now available to state residents whose English is limited.
Testifying before the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, NABE Deputy Director Francisco Acosta summed up the legislation in three words: “intolerant, discriminatory, and divisive.” He assailed a provision limiting native-language instruction to programs that “facilitate as rapidly as possible a transition to the English language.” Such a restriction could force schools to dismantle bilingual programs, both one-way and two-way, that are designed to promote fluency in two languages.
Speaking from his own experience – an extended family whose members speak a total of nine languages – Acosta described the numerous opportunities that multilingualism offers, including higher pay for certain jobs. “Not a single member of my family would tell you that speaking only one language is better than speaking several,” he said.
NABE’s testimony was broadcast nationwide by the Univision and Telemundo networks.
Facing a strong tide of opposition, English Only proponents did not immediately press for a committee vote. Opponents, including Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, a longtime friend of NABE’s, are optimistic that the bill will die without action in this legislative session.
A total of 23 states currently have Official English laws on their statute books. In Arizona, where a 1988 English Only initiative was declared unconstitutional, the legislature is considering whether to place a similar measure on the ballot in 2006.