With a general election in November and with the White House in Democratic hands, Republicans in Congress are proposing bills that have little chance of passage. The bills do allow legislators on both sides of the aisle to pose and posture toward their constituencies.
A good example is a bill introduced by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, to abolish federal aid to bilingual education in the public schools. The bill is inspired by Proposition 227, the California initiative to be voted on in June that would end all bilingual classes except for brief crash courses in English. DeLay’s proposal enjoys limited enthusiasm in Congress and, if passed, would face a certain veto.
Many Americans believe bilingual education keeps immigrant children, particularly those who speak Spanish, from ever becoming proficient in English. Some bilingual education programs are less effective than others. Some, in fact, are terrible and should be done away with.
But without the successful ones, many more children might drop out before they learn to read and write in any language.
DeLay’s bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Bill Archer of Houston and Ron Paul of Surfside. The Republicans want to cut off federal bilingual payments of about $ 670,000 per year to the Houston Independent School District, more than a third of the district’s bilingual budget. Since Texas requires schools to provide bilingual education, HISD would have to take money away from other areas – maintenance, library books, etc. – or raise property owners’ tax bills
The bill is opposed by Democrats Gene Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, who argue that DeLay’s English for Children Act would result in fewer children learning English. The facts, while debatable, seem to support Green and Jackson Lee.
In HISD and elsewhere, the voluntary federal grants pay for the pilot programs that have made bilingual education more effective. DeLay might check with school officials in his Fort Bend County district, where most children in bilingual education become proficient in English and Spanish by the end of the fourth grade.
Some of the more effective classes in the Houston area involve a two-way program, with English- and Spanish-speaking children studying together, alternating from one language to the other.
In an era of hemispheric and global trade, proficiency in English and knowledge of one other language should be the standard for Texas students. Reducing federal support for bilingual education, which also supports research on the quick transition of immigrant children into English, would make that ideal more distant.