L.A. Schools Aim At $20-Million Bilingual Project

The Board of Education approved plans Thursday for a $20-million program designed to ease immigrant students into the Los Angeles educational system by teaching them in their native language until they become fluent in English.

But board members warned that complete financing of the master plan for bilingual instruction will depend on the amount of money that can be expected from Sacramento. The Los Angeles program is designed to take the place of a statewide bilingual program that lapsed in 1987. It includes a provision for a $5,000 bonus to attract highly trained bilingual teachers to predominantly minority schools in Los Angeles.

Speaking after schoolchildren in Mexican costumes staged a Cinco de Mayo fiesta in the school board’s courtyard to support the program, board member Leticia Quezada opened the debate by recalling her own experience in the days before bilingual education.

“People say, ‘you survived, you speak English well. You’re successful,’ ” said Quezada, who immigrated from Mexico at the age of 13.

“I have to agree,” she said with a catch in her voice. “But the reason I was successful was that I was literate in my own language . . . and it took three years. It was an experience of being a deaf student and a mute student . . . (and) what you don’t see are the psychological scars.”

‘Spirit of Puebla’

She invoked the spirit of Mexican soldiers who ousted a larger French force at the town of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

“The spirit of Puebla must live today, when we try to tackle our problems with limited resources,” she said.

In a series of votes, the board members did not actually allocate the funds for the pioneering program, but instructed their staff to include the bilingual programs in the budget for the 1988-1989 financial year.

Plans call for approximately $10 million to come from the district’s general program budget and another $10 million from the state-reimbursed integration program budget.

However, the state funds may fail to meet expectations because of a $1-billion shortfall in income taxes this year and a possible similar shortfall next year.

As a result, concern about the reliability of state funds set off prolonged discussion among the board members, despite their general support for bilingual education.

Board President Rita Waters suggested that the staff be instructed to plan for “maximum feasible funding” instead of setting a $20-million goal, but failed to win support for her suggestion.

The debate went on for so long that board member Warren Furutani suggested that a decision might not be reached until this morning, thus lessening its significance as an action taken on the anniversary of the Mexican triumph.

In addition to the bonus for bilingual teachers, the plan — drawn up by a staff headed by Assistant Supt. Ramiro Garcia — calls for expansion of a program to develop the oral language of immigrants from non-Spanish-speaking countries. There would also be bilingual programs for pre-kindergarten students, a shift of emphasis in high schools from English as a second language to bilingual programs and tougher standards for advancing from being considered a limited-English student to one who is fluent in English.

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