Assembly Measure Would Ease Rules for Bilingual Education

Weeks after Republican lawmakers unveiled two bills to restructure
New Jersey’s bilingual education system, a Democratic assemblyman
weighed in Thursday with legislation of his own.

Assemblyman Rudy Garcia, D-Union City, a proponent of bilingual
education, on Thursday introduced a bill that would ease some
requirements school districts must meet for teaching students with a
limited command of English.

Garcia’s bill calls for school districts with more than 20
limited-English students in any three consecutive grades to provide a
full-time bilingual education program. If there are 20 limited-English
students, but not in consecutive grades, the district would have to
provide a part-time program.

Students would stay in bilingual programs for three years. But the
bill also allows parents to request that their child not participate in
a bilingual program. Those requests would have to be approved by county

“It yields a lot of ground,” Garcia said. “And it provides greater
flexibility and greater parent involvement.”

The bill counters attempts by Republicans to cut back even further
on costly bilingual programs.Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco,
R-Union, and Sen. John P. Scott, R-Lyndhurst, sponsored a bill that
would allow New Jersey’s nearly 600 school districts to set up
alternatives to bilingual education if they found it too costly or
difficult to hire certified bilingual teachers.

Sen. John H. Ewing, R-Somerset, proposed a bill to require parental
consent before an immigrant student was placed in a bilingual class.

Currently, the school principal makes that decision.

Ewing said Thursday that he had met with Garcia to discuss the
possibility Garcia’s bill be added to his bill as an amendment. “If it
looks good to us, we might include it in the bill we have,” Ewing said.

New Jersey’s 1974 Bilingual Education Act requires any district
with more than 20 students speaking the same language, other than
English, to provide full-time bilingual education for those students.

But with more than 120 languages spoken among New Jersey students, such
programs have become extremely costly.

For the past five years, the state has granted districts waivers
allowing them to offer alternatives to a full-time bilingual program.

But last month, state Attorney General Deborah Poritz found such
programs illegal and gave the 95 affected programs until next fall to
hire certified bilingual teachers.

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