Promising State Legislation Related to English Learners in 2023

Blog Post
March 28, 2023

Last month the Biden Administration released its proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 which included $1.2 billion to support the education of English learners/multilingual learners (ELs/MLLs) through Title III. This historic investment coupled with Secretary of Education Cardona’s remarks at the 52nd Annual International Bilingual and Bicultural Education Conference hosted by the National Association for Bilingual Education signal a positive shift in how linguistically diverse students in K–12 schools are viewed and supported at the national level. At the same time, states’ 2023 legislative sessions are well underway and a limited sampling of legislation introduced thus far reveals promising proposals for ELs/MLLs from California to Connecticut.

Addressing Workforce Needs

According to recent data, the number of certified EL instructors decreased by about 10 percent despite continual growth among the EL population. To address this issue, AB 1127 (Reyes) in California would re-establish the Bilingual Teacher Professional Development Program (BTPDP) to address the state’s bilingual teacher shortage through a “grow your own" approach. The bill includes a $20 million budget appropriation to implement the program.

In Texas, HB 2168 (Guerra) focuses on building the EL teacher pipeline by requiring the state education agency to develop a program of study for use in career and technology education programs that prepares and assists students in pursuing a career teaching English learners. Specifically, the bill prioritizes those seeking to work in bilingual education, English as a second language, or Spanish. This bill would also call on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to create a financial incentive program that would offer tuition assistance or student loan repayment to teachers who want to go into these fields. The student loan component in this bill is similar to federal proposal H.R. 460 (Espaillat) which would allow elementary and secondary school teachers across the country who teach ELs, bilingual students, or dual language immersion students to receive additional amounts of student loan forgiveness and loan cancellation.

And in Rhode Island, H 6023 (Morales, Caldwell, and Sanchez) introduced the “Multilingual Educators Investment Act.” This bill seeks to promote and increase the number of bilingual dual language and world language teachers in urban schools by strengthening and expanding program options. To do this, the bill would require collaboration between the state offices/departments that govern postsecondary, secondary and elementary education in consultation with Rhode Island College, the University of Rhode Island, and any other state approved program that prepares teachers for world language and/or bilingual/dual language certification. The bill also establishes a scholarship program to promote and increase the number of multilingual PreK–12 educators in public schools in urban areas. The bill appropriates $2 million starting in FY 2024 to implement the scholarship, with priority awarded to multilingual individuals.

Boosts to Dual Language Programs

Dual language programs positively impact ELs’ acquisition of the English language and promote higher achievement on academic measures, including math and reading scores. These programs also support the maintenance and growth of ELs’ bilingualism and biliteracy. As such, these programs have received increased attention across the country.

In Washington, HB 1228 (Ortiz-Self) aims to build a multilingual, multiliterate Washington through dual and tribal language education. Specifically, this bill would instruct the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to administer a grant program to support school districts and state-tribal education compact schools who want to establish and/or expand dual language education in their jurisdictions. This is similar to legislation passed in 2017 which expired on July 1, 2020 and was last funded for fiscal year 2021. Additionally, this bill establishes stipends for certificated instructional staff and paraeducators with multilingual skills.

In Rhode Island, H 5777 introduced by Representative Felix and others would require the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to establish a dual language program fund within the department and appropriates $300,000 to start this fund. If adopted, the department will be required to establish and maintain a dual language pilot program to provide grants to school districts and schools that establish DL programs. The department would also be responsible for creating a competitive request for proposals process to allocate funding. And in order to qualify, a local education agency must use an instructional model that provides at least 50 percent of instruction in a language other than English based on the needs of the community served.

And in Maryland, HB1098, also known as the “Multilingualism is an Asset Act”, introduced by Delegates R. Lewis and others would not only increase the per-pupil funding allocation for all ELs moving forward, but it would also provide additional funding for certain English learners, including newcomer ELs as well as those with limited or interrupted formal education. In addition to this, the bill seeks to establish the Dual Language Immersion Program in the state department of education. This program would be responsible for developing, funding, implementing, scaling up, and sustaining the expansion of research-based dual language two-way immersion programs in the state. Starting in FY 2025 and each fiscal year thereafter, the governor would be required to include $10,000,000 in the annual budget to implement the program.

Other proposal worth noting include Connecticut’s “English Learner Bill of Rights,” introduced by Governor Ned Lamont, which would enshrine certain rights and responsibilities to these students including the right of EL students to attend public education regardless of immigration status, have translation services provided, participate in a program of bilingual education offered by the local or regional board of education when there are twenty or more eligible students, and right to have equal access to all grade-level school programming, to name a few.

In California, Governor Newsom included various EL-related policy changes in his budget trailer bill including the requirement that long-term ELs be reported out separately in the state's public school performance accountability program. Separately, AB 714 (McCarty) would require the state department of education to support newcomer students by developing and providing instructional guidance for school districts, reporting newcomer data publicly, and examining official curricular frameworks for newcomer inclusion. Lastly AB 393 (L. Rivas) continues the work of 2021’s AB 1363 by requiring the Department of Social Services to develop a standardized process for general child care and development programs to identify dual language learners (DLLs), and requiring programs to report key aggregated information about DLLs to the state.

These bills have yet to work their way through their respective legislative processes, and only time will tell how these bills will fare among the mounting politicization of education in the U.S. However, they shine a positive light on states’ commitment to advancing policies that benefit ELs and their families.

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