Associated Press

Thursday, September 10, 1998

House OKs Bilingual Education Limit
By ROBERT GREENE, AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) A GOP bill to limit federal support for bilingual education cleared the House on Thursday, three months after Californians voted to end such programs.

Opponents accused Republicans of exploiting anti-immigrant feelings to win conservative votes in midterm elections this fall. Sponsors said they were trying to ensure that the 3 million children who speak little or no English learn the language quickly.

The measure, passed 221-189, covers about $300 million worth of federal aid specifically earmarked for bilingual and immigrant education. The money would have to be targeted to programs that teach children English in two years. Aid would be limited to three years per pupil.

It would not restrict local or state spending, the source of most spending for students with limited English. Nor would it limit aid to bilingual education under Title I, a federal program for impoverished schools, the sponsors say.

Parents would have to be told if their children are put in bilingual education and could remove children from such programs if they wanted.

``We want to mainstream these kids,'' said Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Calif., the chief sponsor, told reporters. ``We want to assimilate them into the mainstream of American culture.

``The best way to do that is to hasten their English language learning so that they can become fluent in English, the official, common, commercial language of our country, in two years or less.''

Riggs acknowledged that GOP lawmakers wanted to capitalize on the attention given to California's Proposition 227, approved by voters in June. The measure ends bilingual education in favor of one year of immersion in English.

Riggs has criticized the California law as ``draconian.'' And Republican attitudes vary. House Speaker Newt Gingrich supports making English the nation's official language. But Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a potential Republican candidate for president, supports bilingual education.

Bilingual programs teach children arithmetic, reading, arithmetic and other basic skills in their native language so they don't fall behind while mastering English. But critics say pupils are held too long in those programs, up to six years, in part to keep the teachers employed.

But Latino members of the House said Republicans were rushing through the measure for political reasons. Bilingual programs are due to be considered next year when Congress renews federal legislation governing schools.

``This bill is the height of racism and prejudice,'' said Rep. Matthew G. Martinez, D-Calif. Rep. Jose E. Serrano, D-N.Y., denounced the measure as an election-year gimmick ``to beat up on immigrants and gain votes from the far right.''

They say the measure demeans Spanish, despite its importance as a language of hemispheric trade and the United States' fastest-growing minority.

Opponents also fault the bill for converting the aid from competitive grants to block grants to states and eliminating money to train teachers.

Also, it would void close to 300 'compliance agreements' between the Education Department's civil rights office and districts to guarantee an education for children with limited English.

In a demonstration outside the Capitol, bill opponents challenged the two-year deadline.

One sign in Spanish addressed to the House speaker read: ``Mr. Gingrich, how many languages did you learn in two years?''