Bilingual Program Overhaul May Be Scaled Back, Levy Says

The widely heralded and long-planned overhaul of bilingual education in New York City, aimed at greater use of English and more parental choice, is in danger of becoming a small-scale pilot project because the state has not allocated the needed money, Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy said last week.

Mr. Levy said that he was expecting $50 million for the new program from the Legislature, but that the budget offered by Gov. George E. Pataki did not include it.

“There are some things we will be able to do, but they will be in the margins,” said Mr. Levy, who has previously complained about a lack of financing from City Hall. “What I need is radical improvement, not playing in the margins. Under the current trajectory, we will not be able to train any teachers. This is a far cry from where I thought we would be.”

The Giuliani administration accused Mr. Levy on Friday of playing politics in his battle to wrestle more money from City Hall, which has pledged to give him more if he trims the bureaucracy at the board’s headquarters. Mr. Levy denied the charge.

“If the chancellor cannot identify resources within his $12 billion budget to reform bilingual education, which is a failing program, then he should turn over his budget to the mayor and allow him to identify funding,” said Anthony P. Coles, deputy mayor. “It makes no sense with a budget as large as the Board of Education’s to throw up one’s hand and give up on reform under these circumstances.”

Ninfa Segarra, the board president, lashed out at Mr. Levy on Friday, saying that bilingual education was too sensitive an issue to use as a bargaining chip to leverage more money.

“Harold Levy is using this as a strategy for how to deal with the budget,” she said. “This is too sensitive and too important to throw on a disaster list. After you build a coalition, you don’t say, `Sorry guys, It’s not going to happen.’ ”

Mr. Levy has spent an intense year working with elected officials, Hispanic leaders and educators, hammering out a consensus agreement to preserve the city’s bilingual education program.

The Board of Education voted in February to allow parents to choose from one of four programs: traditional bilingual education; English as a second language classes, or E.S.L., in which English is dominant; a more intensive English as a second language program; or dual language, a program in which students may be taught in Spanish one day and English the next.

Mr. Levy said the intensive E.S.L. program would be established as a pilot in select areas ? probably one in each district. There will be 5 dual- language academies instead of 20, he said. Officials have dropped plans to recruit and train more teachers.

In the last three years, bilingual education has increasingly come under attack across the country. Many critics say that some immigrant students learn too little English and often spend their entire school careers without mastering English in some bilingual education classes.

Voters in California and Arizona overwhelmingly decided to effectively end bilingual education in those states, requiring all public schools to teach their classes in English and shortening transitional programs for immigrant students.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani pushed for a similar policy in New York City, but could not accomplish that goal because of the lingering force of a consent decree that resulted from a 1974 lawsuit brought by Hispanic advocacy groups.

Many advocacy groups were pleased that the board backed away from political pressure to dismantle bilingual education.

The cost of the reformed bilingual program would be about $75 million above the $169 million it now spends for bilingual and E.S.L. education. The extra money would be used to expand the dual-language program, hire and train teachers and create the intensive E.S.L. program, among other things.

The overhaul was spurred in part by a board study showing that just 45 percent of the students who entered the bilingual programs in middle school and 15 percent of those who entered in high school developed sufficient English proficiency to leave those classes during their school careers.

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