• Araceli García • IDRA Newsletter • June-July 2021 •
Despite the uniquely difficult circumstances of the 2021 Texas legislative session, IDRA was able to help ensure passage of four major bills that will benefit emergent bilingual (English learner) students.
Several of these bills were part of the Texas Early Childhood English Learner (ECEL) Initiative, a project that brought together experts from across the state to discuss challenges and opportunities for emergent bilingual students and develop a multi-level policy roadmap (2021). IDRA was proud to serve on the steering committee of the initiative, along with Texans Care for Children, Philanthropy Advocates, Texas Association for the Education of Young Children (TAEYC), and Dr. Dina Castro of the University of North Texas at Denton.
In addition, Dr. Chloe Latham Sikes co-authored a report, Creating a More Bilingual Texas – A Closer Look at Bilingual Education in the Lone Star State, with Chandra Kring Villanueva of Every Texan that outlines six recommendations for policymakers to address the ongoing challenges to achieving educational equity for emergent bilingual students (2021).
We were also excited to lead important work on how policymakers and schools refer to emergent bilingual students, ensuring the language in our state policies and classrooms is affirming and recognizes the many talents these students bring to their schools. The bills below represent a step in the right direction for Texas emergent bilingual students and will require engaged communities and schools to ensure successful implementation.
A Statewide Strategic Plan
Senate Bill 560, by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., is the keystone piece of legislation to emerge from the ECEL Initiative. It creates a statewide strategic plan for educating the over 1 million emergent bilingual students in Texas (Latham Sikes, 2021a). This plan will set goals and benchmarks for increasing the number of certified bilingual educators, high-quality dual language programs and high school students graduating with a biliteracy distinction.
New Bilingual Special Education Certification
There are tens of thousands of Texas students who sit at the intersection of learning English in school and a developmental or learning disability, yet, until now, our state lacked a teacher certification program that equips professionals to meet the needs of those students. House Bill 2256, by Rep. Bobby Guerra, creates a bilingual special education certification to help ensure that students’ needs are more appropriately met and understood by school leaders (Latham Sikes, 2021b; García, 2021a).
Emergent bilingual students account for 28% of all Texas students from pre-kindergarten through third grade and automatically qualify for free pre-K education in the state. This means that early childhood issues are emergent bilingual student issues. SB 2081, by Sen. José Menéndez, sets critical ratios and classroom caps for pre-K class offered by public schools: 11 students to one teacher, with a maximum of 22 students to one teacher and an aide. This bill will allow for more individualized student attention and lay a strong learning foundation for emergent bilingual students across the state.
Transition to Asset-Based Language
Students learning English in Texas schools are a talented and diverse group. However, in state law and our classrooms, these students are called limited English proficient or English learners. These terms are deficit-based, meaning they focus on, and define students by, what they have yet to learn, rather than the skills they already possess. SB 2066, championed by Sen. Menéndez, aims to remedy this issue and empower students by adopting the term emergent bilingual. This term recognizes the unique potential for bilingualism and is a good starting point for encouraging students to leverage their full linguistic repertoire in the classroom (García, 2021b).
The above four bills become law on September 1, 2021, and present an opportunity for our state to truly meet the educational needs of some of our most marginalized students. Emergent bilingual students are an asset to their communities and to our state, and we hope Texas and legislatures across the country will continue investing in them.
García, A. (April 6, 2021). HB 2256 Creates More Ways for Teachers to Serve Bilingual and Special Education Students – IDRA Testimony for House Bill 2256 presented to the Texas House Public Education Committee. San Antonio: IDRA.
García, A. (April 15, 2021). SB 2066 Makes a Simple Change for a Big Impact to Emergent Bilingual Students – IDRA Testimony for SB 2066 presented to the Senate Education Committee. San Antonio: IDRA.
ECEL Initiative. (January 2021). Texas Early Childhood English Learner Initiative Policy Roadmap. Texas Early Childhood English Learner Initiative.
Latham Sikes, C. (April 12, 2021). Texas Must Create a Statewide Plan for Improving Bilingual Education – IDRA Testimony for SB 560 presented to the Texas Senate Education Committee. San Antonio: IDRA.
Latham Sikes, C. (April 6, 2021). HB 2256 Improves Bilingual and Special Education Service Identification for Students – IDRA Testimony for House Bill 2256 presented to the Texas House Public Education Committee. San Antonio: IDRA.
Latham Sikes, C., & Kring Villanueva, C. (2021). Creating a More Bilingual Texas – A Closer Look at Bilingual Education in the Lone Star State. San Antonio: IDRA; Austin: Every Texan.
Araceli García is an IDRA Education Policy Fellow. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2021, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2021 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]