In the past, NABE has seldom engaged in legislative campaigns at the state level. But that policy is changing along with the politics of bilingual education and the impact of No Child Left Behind. State legislation – especially in large states like Texas – have national implications that cannot be ignored.
More now than ever, advocates for bilingual education need to make common cause with colleagues throughout the country. Where NABE’s help is needed, we plan to respond.
Fighting English Only in Maryland
NABE joined forces with education and immigrant rights advocates on March 9 to oppose English Only legislation in Maryland. If passed, the bill would not only designate English as the state’s official language. It would also outlaw many bilingual services now available to state residents whose English is limited.
Testifying before the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, NABE Deputy Director Francisco Acosta summed up the legislation in three words: “intolerant, discriminatory, and divisive.” He assailed a provision limiting native-language instruction to programs that “facilitate as rapidly as possible a transition to the English language.” Such a restriction could force schools to dismantle bilingual programs, both one-way and two-way, that are designed to promote fluency in two languages.
Speaking from his own experience – an extended family whose members speak a total of nine languages – Acosta described the numerous opportunities that multilingualism offers, including higher pay for certain jobs. “Not a single member of my family would tell you that speaking only one language is better than speaking several,” he said.
NABE’s testimony was broadcast nationwide by the Univision and Telemundo networks.
Facing a strong tide of opposition, English Only proponents did not immediately press for a committee vote. Opponents, including Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, a longtime friend of NABE’s, are optimistic that the bill will die without action in this legislative session.
A total of 23 states currently have Official English laws on their statute books. In Arizona, where a 1988 English Only initiative was declared unconstitutional, the legislature is considering whether to place a similar measure on the ballot in 2006.