HOUSTON—For Texas teachers straining to cope with increasing numbers of Hispanic children–many of them the sons and daughters of illegal aliens–the Reagan administration’s ruling on bilingual education came three weeks too late. A federal judge, Mr William Justice, finding the state’s bilingual education standards inadequate, had just given Texas six years to institute bilingual classes for all grades. The case is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Texas law, which forbade bilingual classes until 1969, now requires them for all grades from kindergarten to third grade if 20 or more children in a year have poor comprehension of English. Hispanic groups, however, say bilingual education should not just be a temporary measure; its purpose, they say, is to preserve the Hispanic cultural heritage. It is these groups which have led the fight to establish bilingual education in all 12 grades. Regardless of the outcome of the court battle, Hispanic legislators plan to introduce a bill in the state assembly demanding the same thing.
State aid to local school districts for bilingual education is meagre. Last year it totalled $4.5m for 133,000 students in some 200 school districts out of the state’s 1,100. State aid has steadily declined in the past several years, from $9.3m in 1976 to $5.2m in 1977 and 1978. Federal aid adds $16m a year. The state also provides aid, at $25 a year for each student, to school districts offering bilingual education in grades 4 and 5. Out of about 120 school districts, only three provide bilingual classes for grade 6, which must be paid for out of local funds. The Houston school district is one of these. It spends $2.25m each year for 8,000 students in bilingual classes and for another 6,000 in higher grades who are in special English classes. State law requires schools to offer ”English language development programmes” to any student in any grade needing them, but the requirement is poorly enforced.
It is estimated that if bilingual education is offered to all school grades in Texas another 60,000-180,000 Spanish-speaking children will be eligible. Education officials insist that they could never find enough bilingual teachers to do the job. Texas has about 6,500 state-certified bilingual teachers, about one for every 20 bilingual students. Some 3,000-9,000 more would be needed to cope with of the expected increase in numbers, yet only 350 new bilingual teachers qualify each year.