The Reagan Administration would be willing to seek additional funding for bilingual education programs if Congress goes along with a proposal to allow more classes to be taught in English, a high-ranking Education Department official said Thursday.
Education Undersecretary Gary L. Bauer offered the trade-off in expanding on Education Secretary William J. Bennett’s proposal to give states more “flexibility” in using the federal aid, which now is limited largely to classes taught in students’ native languages.
In a New York speech Thursday, Bennett asserted that there is no evidence that programs using native languages have worked. He said that he advocates changing a rule that no more than 4% of the $139 million in bilingual funds may be used for “alternatives” to the native language programs.
Later, Bauer told a news conference in Washington that Bennett would be “willing to argue” for more funding in the 1987 budget if the states were allowed to use 100% of their funding for alternative programs, such as those that use mostly English. Approaches relying heavily on languages spoken in children’s homes are not working, he said.
Support Among Parents
Bauer said also that the proposed changes have broad support among parents of children not proficient in English, adding that the department will seek ways to give the parents more control of the programs.
He cited a “gap” between the parents and those “who claim to speak for them.” Among Latinos, the most heavily affected group in bilingual education, most organizations oppose the proposed changes.
In the wake of Bennett’s speech and Bauer’s comments, new attention has been focused on bilingual education, with an emphasis on the federal role and funding of the programs, which serve 206,000 students nationwide.
Advocates of bilingual education programs that use students’ native languages have contended that the programs are underfunded, but the Administration has argued that the federal government exerts too much control over how the states use the money and the program should not get additional funds. The fiscal 1986 budget will be the same as 1985’s $139 million.
Bauer’s assertion that the Administration would seek more funding in the future in exchange for more flexibility in programs was welcomed by Bill Honig, California superintendent of schools, who called it a “good trade-off.” However, he cautioned that flexibility must be accompanied by “accountable results.”
But many advocates of bilingual education were skeptical of the proposal. Several pointed out that, under current law, 50% of any extra funding already could be used in the alternative programs, up to a maximum of 10% of the bilingual budget.
James J. Lyons, legislative counsel of the National Assn. for Bilingual Education, accused the Administration of being either “insincere or extremely confused” about the program’s funding and operation.
Many advocates of bilingual programs fear that, if states are given unlimited control over how much of students’ home language must be used in the programs, students will be cast adrift linguistically to “sink or swim.”
‘Would Be no Assurance’
Harry Pachon, executive director of the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said that casting students adrift would be “ludicrous” and that, without continued federal controls, “there would be no assurance that the money would be used properly.”
In addition, bilingual education supporters complained that the Administration opposes new funding for a program that teaches English to families. At the Education Department, Carol Pendas Whitten, director of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs, said that such programs duplicate others and that there is “nothing very token” about the $1.7 billion spent by the federal government on bilingual education over the last 17 years.
In an interview, Bauer said: “We’re sensitive to the charge that we don’t want to provide funding for the program, but there’s no impetus to increase funding for something that is not working.”