OLYMPIA — Heartened by Californians’ passage of a measure limiting bilingual education, Rep. Jim Dunn, R-Cascade Park, vows to keep trying for passage of his own bilingual education bill.
For the past two years, Dunn has sponsored a bill that would require school districts to inform parents of their right to refuse bilingual education for their children. Dunn has been told that in some districts, parents are not informed that such classes are optional.
During the 1998 session, his bill passed the House and the Senate Education Committee but failed to clear the full Senate.
Dunn said he is not sure yet whether he would support a California-style measure, which would limit a student’s participation in bilingual programs to one year. Senate Education Chairman Harold Hochstatter, R-Moses Lake, has already said he will introduce such a bill.
Dunn’s bill was introduced at the request of several foreign-born constituents from Clark County. They testified that their children’s academic progress was hindered by their placement in separate classes.
Some of the mothers told legislators that their children were put in classes in which the teacher spoke only English and the students spoke a variety of other foreign languages.
They said their children would feel less segregated and learn English faster in a class with American children.
Sue Ballard, director of the Evergreen School District’s English as a Second Language program, said ESL classes do involve an English-speaking teacher instructing a variety of foreign-born students.
But she also said the district uses its bilingual funds to hire bilingual classroom aides and tutors. Russian-speaking assistants are most common in the Evergreen School District.
The state spends about $ 61 million per biennium for bilingual education,
giving school districts an extra $ 644 for each student classified as bilingual.
“I think it’s too much for what we’re getting,” said Dunn. “There are too many kids being hurt by it because it actually locks some children into lower standards. Some kids get locked into it for years.
“We put kids into it regardless of what language the teacher speaks,” he went on. “Why do we think it’s a good idea to put a Russian-speaking student or a Filipino student into a class where the teacher speaks English and Spanish? What good does that do?”
Dunn said he was convinced by his experience in high school that children can readily learn English if they are immersed in it. His high school in Louisiana was attended by many Cuban refugee children who spoke fluent English after a few months, he said.
“There are many children and adults who were trained this way and have no problems,” he said, “and there are too many in bilingual programs who are still having trouble speaking English properly. We’re holding too many of our new citizens back from being able to fully participate in the society.”
On a related issue, Dunn and Sen. Don Benton, R-Pleasant Valley, were prime sponsors of the House and Senate bills to make English the official language of Washington state. Neither bill made it to the floor of the House or Senate.
Dunn said he would continue to work for that bill also.
It would require that official documents be printed in English, with several exceptions. If translations are required, they would have to be approved by the governing authority of whatever public agency is involved, and the extra costs would have to be identified.
Marcia Wolf is The Columbian’s Olympia reporter. She may be reached at (360) 586-2437 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.