Wednesday, April 22, 1998
Delay Bill Would End Federal Support of Bilingual Education
Bill would eliminate federal office, funds.
By GREG McDONALD, Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- House Majority Whip Tom DeLay plans to introduce legislation
Wednesday that would end federal support of bilingual education, leaving
it up to the states to decide whether to fund such programs.
The bill, which calls for the elimination of the Department of Education's
Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs, would end
federal funding for about 750 bilingual programs nationwide that allow
the teaching of immigrant children in their native language until they
Many of those programs were created under consent decrees that encouraged
the establishment of bilingual programs in return for federal funding.
DeLay's bill would void the consent decrees, leaving the states free to
decide for themselves whether they want to continue funding bilingual programs
without the benefit of federal dollars.
DeLay aides said the measure, called the English for Children Act, would
save the government an estimated $215 million a year if approved by the
House and Senate.
DeLay spokesman John Phillippe said his boss had decided to offer his bill
because of his long-standing belief "that when you have bilingual
education programs, you are telling (immigrant children) that they don't
need to learn English to get by."
"He believes that this is a shackle the federal government is putting
on these kids . . . In the long run, it's a huge disadvantage to them,"
DeLay, R-Texas, was on the verge last month of introducing his legislation,
but pulled back at the last minute after a number of House members raised
concerns about it. The bill is modeled after California's Proposition 227,
the controversial June initiative in which Californians will vote on whether
to continue the state's bilingual programs.
Some members had urged Delay to await the outcome of Proposition 227 before
introducing national legislation. But DeLay decided to move ahead in the
wake of polls and studies indicating that an increasing number of U.S.
voters, including many Hispanics, believe that bilingual education programs
have failed to live up to their promise of making it easier for children
to learn English.
"I think there's an understanding out there that these programs have
turned out to be failures, and immigrant kids are not going to achieve
the American dream if they don't learn to speak English," said DeLay
policy director Tony Rudy.
Delia Pompa, director of the national Office of Bilingual Education and
Minority Language Affairs, said that despite the discontent in some parts
of the country with bilingual education, many states have a strong commitment
to continuing their programs with or without federal assistance. But she
said losing the federal dollars could hurt some states like Texas, where
the federal dollars have helped with start-up programs in poor school districts
where seed money was not available.
Pompa, the former director of bilingual education in Houston, cited the
city as one area where some programs never would have gotten started without
federal assistance. Texas currently receives about $9.5 million in federal
funding to help fund 49 bilingual programs. That accounts for about 6 percent
of the $199 billion available this year for bilingual education.
Pompa said DeLay's bill "would take away a very good support system
for English" not only in Texas, but across the country.
"It's interesting that he calls this the English for Children Act.
His bill would effectively wipe out a large means of support for providing
English education," she said.
She also took issue with DeLay's assertion that his bill is designed to
end the federal mandate for bilingual education by voiding the consent
decrees that still exist with many local districts.
"We don't mandate bilingual education in any way," she insisted.
"We have always left the choice up to the (school) districts. They
apply to us voluntarily . . . because they want the money and want the
programs. These are discretionary grants."
It's unclear at the moment how much support DeLay's measure will attract
in the House. The level of support could depend on the outcome of the vote
in June on the emotional issue of Proposition 227. But regardless of the
outcome in that vote, the issue could still prove too hot for Republicans
In California, for example, many Republicans who want to do away with bilingual
education have refused to publicly endorse Proposition 227 out of concern
that it could prove to be too ethnically divisive.
Still, like many Americans, a growing number of members are alarmed by
reports showing that bilingual education in some areas of the country is
failing to live up to its promise.
Texas Reps. Gene Green, D-Houston, and Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, have
been supportive of bilingual education programs. But they have called for
improvements to be made in existing programs.
Green, however, said he would oppose DeLay's effort to eliminate federal
support for bilingual programs. "We spend $111 million in Texas on
bilingual education and the federal portion for Texas is only ($9.5 million).
But I would not want the federal government not to be a participant in
some type of language transitional program," Green said.
"Not having bilingual education, or English as a second language programs,
is like putting our heads in the sand. We want people to learn English
and that's what these programs are for," Green said.
Bonilla said in a statement that he had not seen DeLay's bill, and would
not comment. But he said he agrees with DeLay that bilingual education
"should not be a permanent program."
"The common goal is to get all kids in this country speaking English
as soon as possible so they can learn in English. In order to achieve this
goal, bilingual education needs to be a phased-out process," Bonilla
said. "We can not continue to dedicate our precious resources to teaching
in different languages."