WASHINGTON—Administration proposals to change the bilingual education program will provide greater local control and utilize federal funds more efficiently, Education Secretary T.H. Bell said Tuesday.
But critics of the proposals maintained the administration plans would divert funds from their original purpose and gut the program.
An aim of the proposals is to permit local school districts greater latitude in deciding what kind of approach to take in educating students not proficient in the English language, Bell told a House education subcommittee.
“The bill would amend provisions of currnt law which preclude the department from funding projects which do not use the child’s native language in instruction to some extent,” Bell said.
“The proposed amendments would allow the department to fund whatever educational approach a school district believes warranted, so long as that approach is desgned to meet the special educational needs of the limited-English-proficient and can be justified as appropriate by the school district,” he said.
“This modification would bring the program into agreement with current research which indicates that no one approach is superior for meeting the special needs of limited-English-proficient students in all circumstances,” he added.
But Baltasar Corrada, a Democrat who is a delegate from Puerto Rico, said removing the emphasis on native language instruction will lead many Hispanic students to drop out of school.
“This proposal will further exacerbate the cultural isolationism of our country,” he said. “We ought to be doing everything we can to see that English-speaking chilren learn other languages.”
Corrada also objected to the proposal to cut funding for bilingual education from $140 million to $94.5 million for fiscal 1984.
“We are currently serving only 10 percent of the students eligible for bilingual education,” he said. “How in the world can be serve them with a reduction in funding?”
But Bell said that with the demands on the budget, it was felt money could be used more effectively in building the capacity of local districts to be responsible for their own bilingual education programs, and stop depending on federal aid.
That led to a third change proposed by the administration _ preventing any school district from receiving a basic bilingual education grant for more than five years.
That is not enough time for many school districts, especially those experiencing a current influx of refugees, Corrada said.
Bell said in answer to a question that “if the committee finds these provisions too rigid, we would support an amendment” allowing grants for more than five years in districts where there is special hardship.