Assembly Measure Would Ease Rules for Bilingual Education

Weeks after Republican lawmakers unveiled two bills to restructure New Jersey’s bilingual education system, a Democratic assemblyman weighed in Thursday with legislation of his own.

Assemblyman Rudy Garcia, D-Union City, a proponent of bilingual education, on Thursday introduced a bill that would ease some requirements school districts must meet for teaching students with a limited command of English.

Garcia’s bill calls for school districts with more than 20 limited-English students in any three consecutive grades to provide a full-time bilingual education program. If there are 20 limited-English students, but not in consecutive grades, the district would have to provide a part-time program.

Students would stay in bilingual programs for three years. But the bill also allows parents to request that their child not participate in a bilingual program. Those requests would have to be approved by county superintendents.

“It yields a lot of ground,” Garcia said. “And it provides greater flexibility and greater parent involvement.”

The bill counters attempts by Republicans to cut back even further on costly bilingual programs.Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco, R-Union, and Sen. John P. Scott, R-Lyndhurst, sponsored a bill that would allow New Jersey’s nearly 600 school districts to set up alternatives to bilingual education if they found it too costly or difficult to hire certified bilingual teachers.

Sen. John H. Ewing, R-Somerset, proposed a bill to require parental consent before an immigrant student was placed in a bilingual class.

Currently, the school principal makes that decision.

Ewing said Thursday that he had met with Garcia to discuss the possibility Garcia’s bill be added to his bill as an amendment. “If it looks good to us, we might include it in the bill we have,” Ewing said.

New Jersey’s 1974 Bilingual Education Act requires any district with more than 20 students speaking the same language, other than English, to provide full-time bilingual education for those students.

But with more than 120 languages spoken among New Jersey students, such programs have become extremely costly.

For the past five years, the state has granted districts waivers allowing them to offer alternatives to a full-time bilingual program.

But last month, state Attorney General Deborah Poritz found such programs illegal and gave the 95 affected programs until next fall to hire certified bilingual teachers.

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