Senate approves education money with strings added

Bilingual teachers must speak English

The Senate yesterday adopted a $12.5 billion school funding bill containing some controversial measures expected to fuel further debate.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was approved 94-6 after almost three days of contentious debate.

The bill includes a provision, approved Monday, that would cut federal funding to school districts that teach acceptance of homosexuality.

A conference committee must work out differences between the House and Senate versions before the bill returns to both chambers for final passage, sending it to President Clinton.

The Senate voted unanimously yesterday to require at least some teachers in federally funded bilingual education programs to be able to speak and write English.

Current law does not require a bilingual education teacher to know any English, although the stated goal of such programs is to teach English.

Critics of bilingual education argue that it has become a native language maintenance program.

“It’s unbelievable that these so-called bilingual programs have become not bilingual at all, and a lot of teachers in them can speak just one language,” said Sen. Larry Pressler, South Dakota Republican, who offered the proposal.

“Bilingual education is considered transitional to English, with English as the goal,” he said. “I can’t believe that in 1994 we are moving toward a federally supported school system that gives bilingual aid in large amounts to schools where nobody can speak English on the faculty. It’s amazing to have to have an amendment in the Senate saying that bilingual educators ought to be able to speak English.”

The Clinton administration, in its proposed fiscal 1995 budget, is seeking to expand bilingual education with a budget request of $254 million, up $26.6 million from this year. That would serve 720,000 students.

“The Senate has taken a significant step forward by requiring that at least some teachers in these bilingual education programs must speak English,” said P. George Tryfiates, executive director of English First.

The English advocacy lobby believes all bilingual education teachers should be fluent in English.

“After all, if the teacher cannot speak English, how are the students to learn it?” Mr. Tryfiates said.

With more than 2 million students who don’t speak English, school districts in some states have been hard pressed to find enough bilingual teachers to instruct the growing immigrant population, most of which is Hispanic. Districts including Los Angeles and Chicago have taken to recruiting bilingual teachers overseas and in Mexico and Puerto Rico.

In April, authorities in Houston began investigating allegations that the Houston Independent School District had as many as 90 teachers in bilingual education who had almost no English skills and no college degrees.

The trend to native language maintenance, long associated with the Hispanic community, also is growing on some American Indian reservations, Mr. Pressler said.

“There are movements on some reservations to speak and teach and work in Lakota and Navajo or something else,” he said. “If a poor Indian speaks just Lakota or Navajo, there’s no way up for them.”

Mr. Pressler said the amendment that passed is weaker than what he wanted, but he still expects the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to try to kill it when the Senate and House versions of the education bill go to conference.

“The leaders in the Hispanic Caucus who will try to kill the amendment in conference are really trying to perpetuate themselves in power,” he said.

“I think a lot of the Hispanic leaders and maybe Sioux leaders and Navajo leaders like to have their followers not speak English so they can exercise control over them and be the go-between among them and English-speaking political leaders,” he said.

Rick Lopez, executive director of the Hispanic Caucus, said he was not familiar with Mr. Pressler’s amendment but thought it sounded “gratuitous” and like the “kind of thing our members would likely be inclined to oppose.”

On the homosexuality issue, the Senate on Monday adopted an amendment by Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, and Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican, prohibiting schools from teaching acceptance of homosexual lifestyles.

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