Washington legislature appropriates additional 5 million to bilingual ed.
As momentum builds, so does support. Washington state currently hosts the third largest immigrant student population in the United States, and that number is growing each year.
To keep up, this late May, Washington State Representative Velma Veloria announced that the Washington legislature would be adding 5 million dollars to its bilingual education budget for the 93-94 school year.
In budget conscious times, when most programs are finding their programs trimmed back or eliminated, bilingual educations’ coffers are being filled.
It’s a matter of acknowledging facts, and of just keeping pace with the expected approximate of 6,000 additional bilingual students next school year, said Veloria. As long as immigrants are attracted to Washington state, as long as political hotspots worldwide create new waves of refugees and asylum seekers, Washington will always have households whose primary language is not English. One in 10, according to Veloria.
In actual numbers, that figure translates to approximately 31,000 students statewide, a sizeable percentage ending up in Seattle Public Schools.
Seattle Public Schools currently serve some 10,000 bilingual students, of which approximately 5,400 qualify as Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students.
“Clearly the state is not doing enough in funding bilingual programs and this the addition of 5 million was a recognition of the need to do more,” said State Rep. Gary Locke.
LEP students are those students who require or have required transitional time at a bilingual transitional center to learn enough English, before moving on to mainstream schools.
In Seattle, five elementary schools, several high schools like Cleveland, and Sharples Alternative in South Seattle, house transitional learning programs. Bilingual support staff includes tutors and certified language assistants, both paid and volunteer.
Recently, many LEP students, from Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central and Latin America are preliterate. Not having had the opportunity to attend school in their own countries, they enter bilingual transition programs lacking the basic writing, reading and math skills in their own languages to move on and master higher order thinking skills in mainstream classes using English.
Thus, bilingual transitional learning centers function as education way stations, where preliterate students have the time and instruction to learn basic skills, such as how to write letters, form numbers, and perform simple mathematics.
The addition of 5 million would increase the amount of money spent on each bilingual student, from 508 to 628 yearly. Seattle Schools is recommending 1.7 million for this year’s bilingual education budget. “It’s necessary to do and it’s the right thing to do,” said Al Sugiyama, president of the Seattle School Board. Currently the funding for bilingual education is not adequate.
However, Karen Davis of the Washington Education Association warns that school districts getting this additional bilingual funding are not required to spend the money on such programs.
“What is needed is strong bargaining at the district level,” said Davis.
Earlier this year, House Bill 1323, initiated by State Rep. Helen Sommers, proposed a similar situation. School districts were to be given leeway to eliminate bilingual programs if they deemed appropriate.
Only strong public outcry, not just from minority communities, but also from educators and community leaders, influenced Washington legislators to kill the bill in committee, said Veloria. She said she was impressed with how community members took the initiative to write letters and to even testify before the House.
“The lesson to be learned from that episode is that the whole community has to be involved. We can appropriate the funding at the state level as legislators, but it’s up to the local level to demand accountability of that money,” said Veloria.
“Tell your school board that you want this money going to the right programs,” said Veloria.
Locke echoed that advice. “There’s no guarantee, and that’s where the communities have to be vigilant and monitor spending in their local school districts.”
“But there’s also another piece,” said Locke, “the answer isn’t just spending more, it’s also how well we spend the money the government provides.”
The state has also budgeted 10,000 for a bilingual education conference to be held in September or October. The conference will allow educators and policy makers to acknowledge our growing bilingual student population, and confer on the best ways to educate it, said Veloria.
“Velma Veloria deserves a lot of credit for bringing that issue to the attention of the legislature, the issue of how best to spend bilingual education dollars,” Locke said.
“The workforce really is only as good as the community surrounding it,” said Veloria. A good education system, strengthened with bilingual instructional support, creates that kind of community, said Veloria.