Nearly one in three Pasco students are learning English.
Last year, that meant 6,096 Pasco students were enrolled in transitional bilingual programs — up 6 percent in five years.
Now the Pasco School District could help lead the way statewide in encouraging bilingual students to become bilingual teachers.
The state Legislature considered two proposals on the issue this session.
A Senate bill proposed creating four pilot programs, including one in Pasco, to recruit bilingual teachers in high school. No matter what language they speak.
Another bill in the House would create a grant program for school districts to develop their own bilingual recruitment.
Behind the scenes, lawmakers appear to be trying to combine the ideas into one program.
The Senate’s $1.5 million proposal was based on the work of Ricardo Sánchez, who serves on the state’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs. His vision is connecting high schools with colleges to create a seamless transition for students wanting to become teachers.
A Pasco student could receive state loans to pay for tuition, books and fees at Columbia Basin College and later a four-year university.
If the student returns to teach for five years an Educational Service District 123 school in the Mid-Columbia region, the loans would be forgiven. The deal also applied to bilingual students becoming guidance counselors.
This should be looked at as planting the seeds of a long-term program. ... There is no short-term fix.
Ricardo Sánchez, Commission on Hispanic Affairs
The commission envisioned starting with 25 to 30 students in each pilot project. Sánchez predicted about 100 students graduating each year would be eligible for the program.
“This should be looked at as planting the seeds of a long-term program,” Sánchez said. “That’s the way we pitched this to the Senate. ... There is no short-term fix.”
The program is similar to one started in Burlington-Edison High School in the Skagit Valley, said Alexandra Manuel, deputy director of the Professional Educators Standards Board.
The students participating spend time tutoring elementary school children and learning about the education field. The high school partnered with Skagit Valley College and Western Washington University to encourage students to pursue an education degree.
While the Senate proposal, SB 5712, passed 48-0, it’s hit a stumbling block in the House Committee on Education.
Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, suggested amending the bill. The specifics were unclear, but Sánchez said it would have expanded the pilot program to 10 sites.
Ortiz-Self said that would make it more inclusive by creating a pipeline to recruit teachers in several fields.
However, that bill failed to make it out of committee before a March 29 deadline.
We want a systemic change that incorporates basic education. We create a pipeline that starts to give us the real data. We get 10 sites from early childhood. We have 10 more sites of K-12 education.
Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo
But Ortiz-Self’s bill, HB 1445, is still alive and would, in part, require the Professional Educators Standards Board to award 10, two-year grants for up to $100,000.
Her proposal also includes grant programs to develop early education and K-12 dual language programs. The grants would be administered by the standards board to districts to create “grow your own” bilingual educators programs.
“We want a systemic change that incorporates basic education,” she said. “We create a pipeline that starts to give us the real data. We get 10 sites from early childhood. We have 10 more sites of K-12 education.”
The bill is light on details on where the future teachers would come from, leaving it up to the standards board to develop and administer the program.
Her bill passed the House on a 64-34 vote but as it made its way through Senate committees, the content of Ortiz-Self’s bill was removed, and language from the Senate bill was inserted. If passed by the Senate, a compromise would need to be reached with the House.
We think they will deliver some great things for more dual language and bilingual teachers for our state.
Alexandra Manuel, Professional Educator Standards Board
Manuel remains hopeful.
“We think they will deliver some great things for more dual language and bilingual teachers for our state,” she said.
The Pasco School District offers bilingual programs in Spanish at most of its schools and a bilingual program in Russian at Robert Frost Elementary.
Another group of instructors at the district works with small groups of students struggling with the language. It’s these instructors that Robin Hay, the executive director of employee services, would like to have more of.
“I would like to be able to have bilingual literacy intervention at every school,” she said. “We could do that if we had 15 additional bilingual staff educators.”
Carla Lobos, the district’s executive director of teaching and learning, Manuel and officials with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, agree students who can understand basic lessons in their stronger language while learning English perform better.