AUSTIN – Gov. George W. Bush gave a lukewarm endorsement of the state’s $ 130 million-a-year bilingual education system yesterday, saying some of the programs work but others do not.
“I think sometimes the bilingual education establishment tends to lock children within the confines of the bilingual system and thereby slowing progress toward learning to speak English,” said Bush, without offering specifics.
“It ought to be a transition program as opposed to a program unto itself. And those programs ought to be changed,” he added.
Bilingual education has become a lightening-rod issue in California, where voters will decide next month whether to cut off funding for the programs altogether. In addition, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay,, R-Sugar Land, has proposed cutting off federal funds that support bilingual programs.
Bush’s re-election opponent, Democratic Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, called DeLay’s bill “demagoguery to the radical wing of the Republican party,” and said he believes “bilingual education works.
Bush, a Republican who has won kudos for reaching out to Hispanics, said he did not know enough about DeLay’s proposal to comment on it. But he said bilingual education in many instances can be helpful.
“We’ve got a lot of first-generation, Spanish-speaking students that come in and the bilingual program may be just what’s needed to help them transition into the English language,” Bush said.
“The key is to stay focused on the goal, which is excellence in English,” he said. Bush describes his education philosophy as “English plus,” which he says “recognizes the important richness that other languages and cultures bring to our nation of immigrants. ” Texas spends a little more than $ 130 million per year on bilingual education programs – $ 112 million from state money and about $ 19 million a year from the federal government – said Debbie Graves Ratcliff, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.
The figure includes funds spent on English as a second language instruction and traditional bilingual programs, in which students are taught some subjects in their native language.
Ratcliff said DeLay’s bill, if enacted, would cut $ 10 million from the federal funding.
There were 447,343 students in bilingual or ESL programs in Texas during the last school year, or 11.7 percent of the 3.8 million children in the public education system, officials said. The figure slightly exceeds the number of students in special education classes.
In the 1991-92 school year, Ratcliff said students receiving bilingual education (including ESL) instruction accounted for 8.9 percent of the total enrollment.
Mauro agreed with Bush that not all of the bilingual programs are working as intended.
Jay Root, (512) 476-4294