Majority of Texans approve of bilingual help for students

FORT WORTH – A majority of Texans believe it is important to offer bilingual education to students with limited English skills, a new poll says.

About 72 percent of those polled say it is important or very important that Texas public schools offer bilingual education programs to students with limited Engligh proficiency, according to a Texas Poll being released today.

Respondents were relatively evenly divided when asked which of several positions on bilingual education is closest to their point of view: 38 percent said students should be assisted in their native language for a brief time, such as a year or two; 36 percent said students should be taught in both English and their native language for as long as necessary; and 24 percent said students should be taught in English only.

Anglos and older Texans were more likely to favor English only.

The Scripps Howard Texas Poll was conducted June 1-12 for the Star-Telegram and other media outlets by the Office of Survey Research of the University of Texas at Austin.

The poll surveyed 1,014 adult Texans and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Most of the surveys were conducted after the June 2 vote in California, where voters limited bilingual education to one year for most students.

Of those surveyed, 33 percent had children in public school. Of that group, 22 percent had children in bilingual education.

Although 72 percent of Texans believe that providing bilingual education is important, 46 percent say the programs are effective.

Thirty percent say the programs are not effective, and 20 percent said they don’t know.

Although bilingual education continues to be a hot-button issue in California and in Congress, it has not become a major issue in Texas, said Sen. Gregory Luna, D-San Antonio. Luna, who is vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said no one yet is proposing changes at the state level.

“Texas is stronger than California,” he said. “We don’t have an anti-immigrant mentality. “

But he foresees challenges from Congress, where House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Sugar Land has proposed eliminating the federal office of bilingual education and its $ 200 million budget.

“It’s going to be a question of how long we can keep them away from making major changes,” Luna said.

Younger Texans are more likely than older ones to see bilingual education as important, according to the Texas Poll.

Of those age 18 to 29, 85 percent said it is important, compared with 59 percent of Texans 60 and older.

Carlos Vasquez, president of the Fort Worth Association for Bilingual Education, said he is encouraged by the poll results.

Texas requires public schools to provide bilingual education when 20 or more students in a grade speak the same foreign language and need help with English.

For fewer than 20 students, the state must provide English-as-a-second language instruction.

Michelle Melendez, (817) 390-7541

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