While funding levels and details still must be worked out, it appears the state Senate and House have reached a compromise on a new bilingual school program that could make the difference between children keeping up and falling behind.
That the legislation is still alive is promising. We hope that between now and the end of the session — whenever that might be — that funding levels for the pilot program can be restored to what the Senate version had originally intended.
Senate Bill 5712 proposed giving four school districts the means to attract bilingual high school students to become future bilingual teachers. If they agree to return to their home Educational Service District and teach for a period of time (probably five years), then their college loans could be forgiven.
The legislation was approved 48-0 in the Senate, but was amended during its journey through the House.
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Now, the compromise bill trims the funding level so the number of participating school districts is reduced from four to two, with one on each side of the mountains.
We encourage those working out the logistics of the final plan to embrace as much of the original Senate bill as possible. Backers of SB 5712 had selected Pasco, Quincy, Mount Vernon and Highline school districts as potential sites to start the new program.
While we would like there to be enough funding for four pilot programs, it is encouraging to know this innovative approach could get started in at least two school districts.
Ricardo Sanchez, who serves on the state’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs, said the specific school districts cannot be named in the Legislation, and the decision will be made by the Professional Educators Standards Board.
Of course, we think it would be terrific if Pasco were one of the school districts chosen. Nearly one in three Pasco students are currently learning English, which amounts to 6,096 Pasco students enrolled in transitional bilingual programs — up 6 percent in five years.
Statewide, the number of English Language Learners (ELL) in the state’s Transitional Bilingual Instructional Program increased from 15,024 in 1986 to 118,526 in 2015 — an increase of 689 percent, according to a report by the Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
The report also said that only 11 percent of students in the state bilingual program receive instruction in their native tongue, and 46 percent of the educators teaching bilingual children are aides and not certified teachers.
Duel-language instruction allows students to acquire two languages through all the subjects of the curriculum, including math and science. Sanchez said studies on this approach have long established that this method is the best way to close the achievement gap.
When English learners get bogged down in classes where the curriculum is only instructed in English, they often fall behind. The idea to create a pipeline of bilingual teachers who could help turn that around makes a lot of sense.
The House version originally had wanted to expand the pilot program to 10 sites, but an increase in cost might have made the Senate balk. Starting small and expanding later is a smart way to begin any new program. Yet, we would still prefer to see it launched with four school districts compared to two. After all, the Senate already agreed to that.
With so many bills headed for dormancy this week, it is always refreshing when a good idea survives the legislative battle ground. This is one of those good ideas.