Mayor Rips Push To Up Funding For Bilingual Ed

Mayor Giuliani balked at the prospect of bankrolling a $75-million overhaul of bilingual education in city public schools yesterday, saying the Board of Education has “plenty of money” to make reforms.

Just days after Schools Chancellor Harold Levy and the mayor’s own bilingual education task force unveiled virtually identical plans, Giuliani said he was taken aback by the hefty price tag Levy placed on his program.

“I didn’t see this as a more-money issue. I saw it as a ‘Let’s straighten out the program’ issue,” Giuliani said in Brooklyn at his daily news conference.

Rudy doesn’t speak the language of bilingual ed.

A visibly agitated Giuliani, who has aggressively pushed for paring down the bureaucracy in the 1.1 million-student school system, noted the Board of Education has a $10.9 billion budget. “They should move it around,” he said.

“The problem with the system is the organization of it,” Giuliani said. “If you change the way in which it’s organized, you’ve got plenty of money there to make it work.”

Levy said last night, “I need to speak with [Giuliani] before I have any comment.” He said he and the mayor have been meeting weekly, though he declined to say when their next meeting would take place.

The Board of Education currently spends $169 million on bilingual and English-as-a-second-language programs for about 160,000 students who fail a test in English proficiency. But a board study released in September showed that half of the students in those programs languished for more than the state-mandated three years, some even staying for nine years.

The bilingual education reform plans released this week by Levy and the mayor’s task force ? of which Levy also is a member ? call for capping the time non-English-speaking students stay in bilingual or ESL classes to three years. Bilingual classes are taught in a student’s native language; ESL classes are primarily in English.

In addition, both proposals would end automatic placement in bilingual or ESL classes and create a third, intensive ESL option offering more English instruction after school, on weekends and during the summer.

Giuliani said Levy’s budget fails to consider savings from moving kids into mainstream classes more quickly. Giuliani also suggested the Board of Education’s pleas for more money may fall on unsympathetic ears as the city is facing a budget shortfall of $2.5 billion next year.

Diane Ravitch, a former education secretary under President George Bush, said the Board of Ed need not boost its budget to teach kids English.

“Surely in that budget of $11 billion, they should be able to eke out the money to teach everyone the language that’s commonly used in most parts of this society,” said Ravitch, who is an education historian at New York University.

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