Houston Chronicle

Tuesday, March 24, 1998

DeLay May Press To Let States End Bilingual Education
Bill would abolish federal mandate.
By GREG McDONALD, Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, is working on legislation that would remove the federal mandate on bilingual education, leaving it up to the states to decide if they want to continue funding such programs.

Congressional aides said Tuesday that DeLay has been circulating a draft bill that would abolish the Education Department's Office of Bilingual Education and effectively end the long-standing federal practice of forcing states to teach Hispanic immigrant children in Spanish until they learn to speak English.

The draft measure, according to members who have seen it, or have talked to DeLay about the controversial proposal, is modeled after California's Proposition 227, the June initiative in which Californians will vote on whether to continue the state's bilingual programs.

DeLay has not yet decided if he will actually introduce his bill and thus take on the role in Congress as the chief advocate for abolishing bilingual programs nationally.

"It's something we're taking a look at," said Tony Rudy, director of policy for the Texas congressman who holds the No. 3 leadership position in the House. "Obviously, Mr. DeLay does not support the federal mandate (on bilingual education) . . . and he may decide to introduce legislation."

But Rudy stressed that DeLay hasn't even signed on to the final details to be included in a bill. He said, however, if DeLay "chooses not to do this at this time," he would likely urge other members with similar views to introduce legislation of their own that would essentially have the same effect.

At least one GOP House member said DeLay's proposal had won an initial endorsement from most other Republican House leaders. But Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was described as being "wary" about trying to move legislation before California voters weigh in on Proposition 227, or before the November House elections.

"There are a lot of members who think a decision like this ought to be put on hold until after the California vote in June," said one House aide. "Every Republican House member is up for re-election this year, and this is not going to play well with a lot of Hispanic voters."

Still, recent polls indicate that an increasing number of American voters, including Hispanics, believe that something has to be done to at least improve, if not end, bilingual education programs. A recent poll in California indicated that 84 percent of Hispanic voters favor abolishing bilingual education altogether.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, and Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, share the view that improvements have to made to existing programs. But they favor "a transitional" approach rather than the wholesale abolishment of the existing bilingual system apparently favored by DeLay.

Both said they would likely oppose any attempt to end federal support.

"I'm not sure there is a federal mandate because the federal government provides so little money," said Green, whose Houston district is approximately 45 percent Hispanic. "We may disagree with the methodology on bilingual education . . . but the whole point is we need to have some sort of transition program."

Green said that although only a small portion of federal tax dollars go to support bilingual education in Texas, abolishing the Washington office that oversees it would still "hurt."

"But I hope in Texas we would continue support for some bilingual programs," he added.

Bonilla aide Angela Rogers said her boss favors making some big changes in bilingual education, but would probably not support a DeLay move to end it outright.

"You read so much about how this program just isn't working . . . and he is concerned that we make it a truly transitional program," Rogers said. "He believes that if you can't show results for this investment . . . then there's a problem."