Non-English Speaking Students Being Cheated, Dems Say

By Alison Espach | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - U.S. House Democrats are attacking the Bush administration for allegedly failing to provide adequate educational tools and resources for non-English speaking children. That represents a violation of the terms set out in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the Democrats claimed.

Delivering parts of his speech in both English and Spanish, U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas) called Bush's focus on establishing English as an official language "another attempt to detract from real debate on education."

He told Cybercast News Service that the government needs to increase funding - both state and federal - for the 8 percent of Americans, including many recent immigrants, who are unable to communicate in English and face discrimination because of the language barrier.

"We cannot sit by idly assuming they are doing well," said Hinojosa. "Because they are not."

Hinojosa said public schools do not provide enough resources and tools for non-English speaking students to succeed and that many states are not administering reliable and valid math, science, and reading assessments. He blamed this on what he said was the Bush administration's under-funding and its use of the English language debate as a "political tool ... to create a reason for those who are anti-immigration to come out and vote."

Hinojosa and representatives from the National Council of La Raza and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus urged the Bush administration and the U.S. Department of Education to examine the results from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Wednesday. It found that "two-thirds of the 48 states examined by GAO did not reach their annual targets for the share of students with limited English proficiency able to read and do math and science at grade level."

However, Chad Colby, spokesperson from the Department of Education said that since 2001, federal funding for education has been a priority. "Federal education funding has gone up dramatically since the president took office in 2001," said Colby.

Under the NCLB Act, federal elementary and secondary education funding has dramatically increased (41 percent) under the Bush administration, according to Colby. Title I funding for disadvantaged students has increased 45 percent, and funding for the Reading First program - an initiative to help all children read better and earlier - has quadrupled.

He added that other steps have been taken to help non-English speaking students.

"Just today we are announcing a partnership with states to help them improve the way they test students with limited English proficiency," Colby said.

The federal government has joined with about 20 states to improve the quality of tests to ensure limited English proficiency students are examined fairly and accurately, he said, noting that 80 percent of these students are Hispanic or Spanish-speaking.

"We are providing the technical assistance, and the states will have to implement the plans," said Colby. "It's a partnership."

It is also unprecedented for the Department of Education, he said. "The federal funding is targeted the way federal education funding always has been targeted -- to supplement state funding," said Colby. "And it is targeted towards children who are in poverty."

Still, Hinojosa warned that "if we do not get the No Child Left Behind Act right for limited English proficient students, the law will fail millions of children throughout the country."

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