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Newly-Introduced SPELL Act Seeks to Ease Bilingual Teacher Shortage

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

The bill proposes a 350% increase in student loan forgiveness for ESL teachers, on par with Math, Science and Special Education

Washington, D.C.— On October 18th, HR 4389 was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor. The bill is more commonly referred to as the SPELL Act—Supporting Providers of English Language Learning Act. The bill would allot $17,500 in student loan forgiveness to teachers of English language learners, up from $5,000 currently. This increase would put English language teachers at the same level of loan forgiveness held by math, science, and special education teachers currently. As student debt dominates the debate around higher education, the SPELL Act will certainly incentivize college students to become English language teachers, a necessary goal given this role’s shortage across the country. 

The legislation’s author, Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI-2), notes that “In Rhode Island, we have a rapidly growing English learning student population, but we lack qualified teachers needed to education these students.” A January 2019 article in his home state’s Providence Journal corroborated that “States consistently report trouble staffing special education, math, science, foreign language and English as a Second Language classrooms.”

The SPELL Act is endorsed by Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-3), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY-13) as well as Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). Grijalva stresses that “As the number of English Learners increases in our public schools, it’s critical to have highly-trained teachers to serve their needs”. This point is particularly critical in congressional districts like Grijalva’s NY-13, where 59.7% of children ages 5-17 spoke a language other than English at home.

 Nationwide, over 20% of Americans speak a language other than English at home, with this figure steadily increasing over time. The surge in ESL students nationwide necessitates a likewise increase in English teachers: “America needs more language teachers, as noted by the Congressionally-requested report of the Commission on Language Learning of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,” said Dr. Bill Rivers, Executive Director of the JNCL-NCLIS. The SPELL would ameliorate the financial burden of entering the English teaching profession. 

JNCL-NCLIS is committed to supporting legislation that makes teaching English more accessible, and in turn, lessens the ESL teacher shortage. JNCL-NCLIS is proud to support the SPELL Act (HR 4389), which would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965. 

Click here to tell your member of Congress to co-sponsor the Spell Act. Not sure who your Representative is? Click here.

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