Bilingual Mandates

Several states have begun to require bilingual instruction in their public schools. These requirements vary greatly from state to state.


Alaska’s education statute requires local education agencies to provide a “bilingual-bicultural education program” for schools that enroll at least eight ELL students. It also requires local school boards to create a local Native language curriculum advisory board for each district where a majority of students are Alaska Natives. The advisory board has the power to recommend schools to create a Native language education curriculum for enrolled K-12 students, which should include the Native languages traditionally spoken in the community.


Connecticut has a Bilingual Education Statute that requires school districts to provide bilingual education programs to ELL students in grades K–12, in schools where there are 20 or more ELLs that speak the same home language. The original law was passed in 1977 but was changed in 1999 to require schools to teach ELL students in English for more than half of the school day by the end of their first year in the bilingual program, and to move ELLs to regular classes after three school years (30 months). For high school students who are eligible for ELL services but who will graduate within 30 months, the district must offer students participation in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program.


In 2010, Illinois passed legislation that requires public schools to mandate bilingual education programs for preschool students ages 3–5, making it the first state to extend a bilingual education mandate to the preschool years. Effective July 2014, Illinois’ Title 23, Administrative Code Part 228 requires school districts with preschools that serve 20 or more ELLs who speak the same home language, to create a transitional bilingual education (TBE) program for every foreign language spoken. In schools with fewer than 20 ELL students, districts must offer students with instruction or services in the their home language (such as ESL services).The same requirements have been in place since 1973 for students in grades K–12, when Illinois first passed legislation mandating transitional bilingual education for ELLs.

New Jersey

New Jersey’s School Administration Code includes general provisions for mandated bilingual education programs for ELLs in grades K–12. The provisions require school districts to provide bilingual education programs in schools where there are 20 or more ELLs who speak the same home language. New Jersey also requires that all students receiving bilingual instruction also receive ESL instruction.

New York

New York mandates that districts implement a bilingual education program in schools with at least 20 ELLs from the same grade who speak the same native language. In New York City, only 15 students from the same (or contiguous grades) are needed in the elementary and middle school grades. Bilingual programs must include a component of Native Language Arts instruction, ESL instruction, and English language arts instruction. ELL students that choose not to take part in a bilingual education program must take part in a free-standing ELL program until they are reclassified as proficient based on NYSESLAT, New York’s English language proficiency exam.


Since 1981, the Texas Education Code requires school districts to offer all PreK–12 ELL students in a bilingual education program, if there are 20 or more ELL students who speak the same home language. For schools with less than 20 ELL students, school districts must provide those students with an ESL program. The law requires that schools offer students one of the following types of bilingual programs, all of which provide ELLs with native language and English-language instruction: transitional bilingual education (TBE), integrated TBE, two-way immersion or one-way immersion. Texas also requires ELL students in grades 9–12 to take part in ESL programs, although this requirement is optional for students in middle school. For students in the elementary grades (Pre-K through grade 5 or grade 6, depending on the district), Texas requires districts to offer students instruction in one of the four bilingual program models.


Washington’s Basic Education Act includes a statute that creates the Transitional Bilingual Instruction Program (TBIP). The law mandates school districts to offer ELLs transitional bilingual instruction, either through a bilingual program or an alternative program such as ESL. Students can receive TBIP instruction for a maximum of three years or until students are reclassified proficient based on Washington’s English language proficiency assessment (WELPA).


Wisconsin has a bilingual/bicultural education statute that requires districts to design a bilingual education program in a school that enrolls at least 10 ELL students who speak the same native language in the K–3 grade span or 20 students in both the 4–8 and 9–12 grade spans. However, in districts where individual schools do not meet the minimum student threshold, districts are allowed to combine students of the same native language group from different schools. The law also requires all bilingual programs to be staffed by licensed bilingual instructors or ESL-licensed instructors with bilingual aides when a bilingual teacher is not available (however, this exception is not allowed for programs serving Spanish speakers).