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English Learner Provision Included in House HEA Reauthorization Bill

Last week, the House Education and Labor Committee passed a JNCL-NCLIS-backed provision that directly addresses our nation’s bilingual teacher shortage via the bipartisan College Affordability Act, which would reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) for the first time since 2008. The HEA intends to strengthen the educational resources of American colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students pursuing higher education.

JNCL-NCLIS and its members understand that one of the problems facing our nation’s schools is the national shortage of bilingual teachers to address the growing population of English Learners (ELs) in America. Teaching ELs requires a specific skill set and unique teaching strategies, but the Department of Education reports that 32 states have a shortage of teachers for EL students. Further, one in ten public school students in the US do not speak English as a native language. As a result, thousands of schools across the country are unable to meet the needs of the growing population of ELs. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has recommended addressing this disparity in their recent report America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century”

Within the College Affordability Act is HR 1153, the Reaching English Learners Act, first introduced by Representatives Jim Langevin (RI-2), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Will Hurd (TX-23). This initiative aims to close the academic achievement gap English learners face by funding teacher preparation programs that provide more effective and appropriate instruction for the non-native English-speaking student population.

The bills’ primary sponsor, Rep. Langevin, stated, “As the number of English learners continues to increase across the nation, this bill will provide crucial resources to ensure the teachers of tomorrow are equipped with the necessary skills to help them succeed academically. English learners have enormous potential, and I am excited to work with leaders like Senator Cortez Masto and Congressmen Espaillat and Hurd to ensure these students can thrive.”

The Reaching English Learners Act would create a grant program for colleges and universities under Title II Part B of the Higher Education Act to support the development of teacher preparation programs that train future teachers to instruct ELs. To secure a grant, higher education institutions would be required to partner with local education agencies to build or strengthen teaching programs that provide qualified teacher candidates with skills related to:

  • Helping ELs in prekindergarten, elementary, and secondary school programs: (1) achieve at high academic levels and meet state standards adopted under ESSA; and (2) attain English proficiency;

  • Recognizing and addressing the social and emotional needs of ELs;

  • Appropriately identifying and instructing ELs with disabilities; and

  • Promoting parental, family, and community engagement in EL educational programs.

The College Affordability Act passed the House Education and Labor Committee on Thursday October 31, on a 28-22 vote, and now moves on to the full House for further consideration. House Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, (D-Va.) has said he wants to see it passed by the end of the year.

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