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
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
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.