Congress is forcing the eventual demise of bilingual education with proposals that would make English the nation’s official language, a bilingual education group said Thursday.
Even though the most popular English language bills in Congress don’t mention bilingual education, they would still harm efforts to teach children in both their native language and English, said James Lyons, executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education.
Lyons and board members of the Washington, D.C., group lambasted the proposals at a news conference during the association’s 25th annual conference. About 8,000 educators are attending the conference, which began Tuesday and ends Saturday at the Orange County Convention Center.
“It would kill bilingual education over a generation,” Lyons said of the effect of mandating English as the official language. “It will move this country into a renewed state of monolingualism.”
Several English-language bills are pending in Congress. Most have been debated in hearings and are set for further debate in Senate and House committees.
Lyons and other members of the group contend that most of the bills would help the foes of bilingual education.
They cited language that gives every citizen the right to sue an organization that doesn’t meet his or her needs in English. Lyons said a parent could sue a school if a teacher skilled in two languages used both in the classroom.
Supporters of the English bills said the national group is exaggerating. The measures most likely to pass don’t mention bilingual education. They do call for mandating that the federal government conduct its official business in English.
The House measure has 193 co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Longwood. The Senate version has 21 co-sponsors.
The right-to-sue portion in the federal legislation applies to government business, not schools, said Daphne Magnuson, communications director for U.S. English, an organization that promotes English as the nation’s official language.
Magnuson acknowledged that her organization is lobbying for schools to teach students English using only English and not their native language.
“We think the native language programs take too long and don’t teach English as well or as quickly as they learn it,” Magnuson said.
But the intent of the most popular English language measures is to stop spending government money on translating non-English documents, not to affect bilingual education, said Pete Jeffries, communications director for U.S. Rep. Bill Emerson, R-Wis., who introduced a measure in the House.
“His bill is trying to pull people together and to help our country move forward in the years ahead because we can all communicate in the same tongue,” he said.
Kathy Escamilla, president of the national bilingual group and a professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, said the bill will have the opposite effect and will divide people of different cultures.
In Central Florida, many districts offer bilingual education. Orange County has bilingual instruction in 26 elementary schools and 13 middle schools. Students are being taught in English as well as in Spanish, Vietnamese, Portuguese and Haitian Creole.
Florida and 21 other states already have approved public referendums that make English the official language at the state level.