State Senate Panel OKs Bills Giving $21 Million for English Instruction

Times Staff Writer

The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved legislation Wednesday that would provide nearly $21 million in additional funds for English as a second language programs at elementary and high schools and community colleges.

One of the bills, by Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), would also provide for the creation of a five-year volunteer tutor program in three counties, as well as the production and dissemination of videocassettes of English lessons to local television stations.

Torres said additional funding for the English programs are urgently needed because new immigration laws require proficiency in the English language as a condition for those seeking citizenship. Now, he said, the demand for English classes far exceeds availability. In Los Angeles alone, nearly 40,000 potential students were turned away from such programs last year.

Unpaid Volunteers

Torres' bill would provide $750,000 to recruit and train qualified, unpaid volunteers to teach English in the Los Angeles school district and in Fresno and Santa Clara counties. These three areas were chosen because of their heavy Hispanic populations, Torres said.

The bill would also authorize $120,000 for administrative costs of the California Department of Education, which is responsible for developing a plan using "existing resources" to provide instruction to people, including adults, whose English is limited.

Another $500,000 would be earmarked for the development and production of a television teaching program to be made available to public and cable television stations. The lessons would be taught by regular English as a second language instructors.

Torres' bill recently was amended heavily, including the deletion of an $880,000 grant to school districts to establish new English language programs. This provision was similar to a Torres bill that was vetoed last year by Gov. George Deukmejian. The budget for the video program in this year's bill was cut in half and the funds for the volunteer programs were been reduced by a quarter.

'Need to Start Somewhere'

"I'm not happy with these amendments," Torres told the committee. "I believe that we have a more serious problem than we realize but I do feel that we need to start somewhere as quickly as possible."

A second bill, by Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), would provide an additional $14 million to school districts that offer English language programs at the elementary and high school level. Another $5.6 million would be allocated to community colleges that provide English language classes for adults. Hart estimated that an additional 20,000 individuals could receive English instruction if this bill passes.

However, Deukmejian has budgeted $6 million in additional funds for English language programs.

Both the Hart and Torres bills were approved by an 8-0 vote.

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