Associated Press

Thursday, June 4, 1998

Panel Overhauls Bilingual Ed. Aid
By ROBERT GREENE, AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON--Two days after Californians voted to dismantle bilingual education, a House committee voted Thursday to overhaul federal aid for teaching pupils who speak little or no English.
     The bill cleared the Education and Workforce Committee on a partisan 22 -17 vote. It would favor programs that teach pupils in English and limit to three years the time pupils could be taught in a native language other than English.
     Parents could remove children from bilingual education and would choose the method of teaching if more than one were available.
     The chief sponsor, Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Calif., said the bill is needed because many children spend six or seven years in classes using their native language without ever speaking English fluently. Federal law now sets no time limit.
     The Clinton administration opposes the bill partly because of the time limits. It also does not like the legislation's aim to convert a program relying on competitively awarded grants to one giving block grants to states to spend as they choose.
     Conversion to block grants also would eliminate federal money to train teachers in bilingual education, despite a shortage. Federal aid this year totals $160 million.
     Under the bill, voluntary compliance agreements that the federal government obtained from school districts and states to guarantee bilingual education would be ended. The Education Department contends that will lead to more civil rights lawsuits to ensure that children who speak minority languages get equal schooling.
     Rep. Matthew G. Martinez, D-Calif., said the opposition to bilingual teaching is "based on emotion and the unwillingness of most Americans to pay for instruction in two languages." Like other Democrats, he said the measure was driven by election politics rather than a concern with education.
     Riggs cited the California vote against bilingual education as a reason for supporting his measure, then in off-the-cuff remarks said it went too far. "I personally feel that Proposition 227 is too draconian," he said. "This legislation is much more flexible."
     The California proposition, being challenged in court, would end bilingual education and allow only one year's English immersion for children. The House bill has implications for GOP efforts to court Latino voters. Exit polling in California found substantial Latino opposition, although earlier polls had indicated support.
     The bill was amended to say every person in the United States "should have a command" of English rather than "it is imperative" to know English.