As the number of students learning English continues to climb in Washington, the state has added several new tools to help school districts prepare both native and nonnative speakers for fluency in at least two languages.
Bipartisan legislation that Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Monday would provide grants of up to $200,000 that districts could use to create or expand dual-language programs. Students in those immersive programs spend half the day learning in their native language, and half in another.
The legislation also would require state officials to help build partnerships between districts and colleges of education to recruit, train and mentor more bilingual educators. Districts could start as early as middle school to identify aspiring teachers and help them build their linguistic skills.
Seattle Public Schools, for example, has considered hosting a teaching academy at Chief Sealth High, where seniors learning Spanish could study education as a profession and decide if it’s a career path for them.
One catch: While they voted to pass the bill, lawmakers have yet to approve money to fund it. And that leaves the exact number of grants and the amount of support for future teachers uncertain.
Lawmakers are under court order to substantially increase state funding for public schools, but disagreement over how (and how much) has led to legislative gridlock.
“We’re very hopeful that it will be funded,” said Roxana Norouzi, education director of OneAmerica, a nonprofit that lobbied for the dual-language bill.
“Passing a bill is no small feat, particularly in this political-climate budget situation,” she said. “So this is a huge win. It’s not just about education … It’s about our state making Washington a welcoming place for all immigrants.”
Dual-language programs have grown in popularity across the state, and nearly two dozen districts used the model last year.
Research shows that, over time, students who enroll in dual-language programs have reading skills in English that were almost a full year higher than their peers. Learning in two languages also yields better results than bilingual programs in which students get some support in their native language.
But developing a new dual-language program isn’t cheap: Districts have to pay for staff training, teacher recruitment and new curriculum.
The new law would allow districts to use the $200,000 grants to cover those costs over a two-year period. That’s double the amount the Bethel, Selah and Mabton districts received in 2015 to pilot instruction in different languages.
Under the new grant program, districts could get a bonus of $20,000 if they target a language other than Spanish.
They also could apply to join a new bilingual educator initiative – if that’s funded – that would offer financial aid to high-school graduates who go on to college to become teachers.
The new legislation follows previous measures that allow students who speak more than one language to graduate with a Seal of Biliteracy on their high-school diploma and gives them credit for languages they learned at home.