Denver’s school board on Thursday narrowly kept alive a proposal that could bring the district $3.3 million to boost the skills of bilingual students and teachers.
On an informal 4-3 vote the board agreed to decide in two weeks whether a grant request to the U.S. Department of Education will violate a court order that governs the district’s approach to bilingual instruction.
“I’m thrilled to have a new source of money,” said board member James Mejia. “We need this.”
Mejia, Elaine Berman, Les Woodard and Lucia Guzman support the proposal, which has already been submitted but whose final conditions must be met by the end of May. Opposed were Sue Edwards, Bennie Milliner and Sharon Macdonald.
Opponents said the grant needs more review by district officials. They said the proposed dual-language experiment in the grant runs counter to the district’s emphasis on teaching mainly English.
“It sends a schizophrenic message,” Milliner said.
The money would help in one of the district’s most troubling areas. The number of students who speak limited English has increased 58 percent in the past five years to 15,790. Of those, 93 percent speak Spanish.
Limited English speakers are the district’s lowest achieving students on tests in English. Many do better on tests given in Spanish.
Three years ago, the district began a shift from teaching English as a second language to primarily teaching English, moving non-English speakers to mainstream classes in three years instead of the five to seven common in the past.
The supply of bilingual teachers is limited. The grant would pay for training and classes for more than 200 teachers, aides and principals. Four schools would volunteer to start dual-language programs in hopes that literacy in two languages will help improve students’ understanding of all subjects.
Four more schools could join later, even more if parents and teachers agree. The grant would be run by the Latino / a Research and Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Denver and the BUENO Center at CU in Boulder.