Nearly six months ago, the Board of Education voted unanimously ? and mistakenly ? to revamp its hopeless bilingual education program. It should have just scrapped the thing. Now, Chancellor Harold Levy says even the halfway reforms may be DOA because City Hall won’t kick in more money. Yesterday, he even toyed with the idea of suing the city. The chancellor has chutzpah but not courage.

Levy should be fighting to eliminate the $169 million sham of a program and take the lead in making sure New York City school children are educated in English. And that they learn it well. Their very futures are at stake.

Last year, the Mayoral Task Force on Bilingual Education reported some alarming stats: More than half the students enrolled in bilingual classes ? taught in their native languages ? do not transfer to regular classes within the state-mandated three years. Only 73% of children who start in kindergarten, 58% of second-graders and 43% of third-graders are mainstreamed on time.

The outlook is far better for those taught in the English-as-a-Second-Language program: 84% of kindergartners, 75% of second-graders and 70% of third-graders make the three-year cutoff.

Levy complains that the city has not come through with the nearly $20 million he was expecting to recruit and train teachers for the revamped program. But what’s the point of revamping something that shouldn’t exist anyway?

Mayor Giuliani’s response to Levy is: “Show me the money.” And he’s right. The Board of Ed has a $12 billion budget. Money is not the problem.

Levy and Board President Ninfa Segarra should admit that bilingual education is an irredeemable failure ? that the only way to fix it is to get rid of it, that the only culture it preserves is the culture of stagnation at 110 Livingston St. They should be challenging the 1974 consent decree that launched this disaster.

Bilingual education has educated no one. It has merely spawned and fostered a sprawling, unaccountable bureaucracy that demands constant feeding from city coffers. Meanwhile, how thousands of school children will learn the English they need to succeed and survive is anyone’s guess.

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