• By Jonathan Peraza Campos, M.S. • IDRA Newsletter • February 2023 •
Georgia’s public schools now serve the seventh largest population of emergent bilingual students. Besides English, the most common languages in Georgia households are Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Arabic (Owens, 2020; Parker, 2019). This presents an opportunity for Georgia to support the potential of our culturally and linguistically diverse population by investing in multilingual and culturally sustaining education.
Educating Emergent Bilingual Students
However, emergent bilingual programs experience a stark lack of funding and investment of resources to support students’ academic success. The reach of programs that fortify biculturalism and bilingualism are limited with only 71 dual language immersion programs available in Georgia, a state with more than 2,000 schools (ACIE, 2021).
The efficacy of these programs also is limited by the shortage of teachers for emergent bilingual programs and, importantly, the shortage of teachers who are bilingual. Contrary to evidence-based best practices, bilingual programs in Georgia often do not use an asset-based, culturally sustaining approach. Many, instead, promote a model of assimilation through the exclusion of bilingual materials and instruction (Owens, 2020).
As a result, the four-year graduation rate of emergent bilingual students was 66.2% in 2022 while Georgia’s graduation rate counting all students was at an all-time high of 84.1% (GaDOE, 2022).
To ensure a generation of leaders who can communicate and negotiate across differences, borders and nations, we must equip our emergent bilingual students – and all Georgia students – with the tools that culturally sustaining and dual language immersion education can cultivate. As our diverse population grows, so too can opportunities grounded in equity for Georgians to participate in the development of the years to come.
Educating Immigrant Students
While Georgia is among the states with the highest immigrant population growth in the United States, first-generation students and immigrant children who already possess strong bicultural and bilingual skills are not recognized for that achievement, with fewer than 3% of students receiving a seal of biliteracy from the Georgia Department of Education.
This matter is exacerbated given that emergent bilingual, Georgia-raised immigrant students are denied access to higher education. Talent in schools is stunted and driven away by anti-immigrant legislation. In 1982 the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe, that all K-12 students, regardless of immigration status, are entitled to their right to education, which benefits the state. However, in 2006, state legislators and the Georgia Board of Regents enacted policies that deny undocumented students access to in-state tuition rates.
In 2010, legislators passed a bill prohibiting the admission of undocumented students at the top five (now three) public universities in Georgia and prohibited their ability to pay in-state tuition rates (Atfeh, et al., 2019; Higher Ed Immigration Portal, 2023).
Georgia is one of only three states in the country that prohibit access to financial aid for undocumented students. The same southern states that ban undocumented students today once banned the admission of Black students until the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which also paved the way for bilingual education and culturally sustaining teaching (Atfeh, et al., 2019).
For a Georgia where all students can flourish and contribute to the state with all of their multilingual and multicultural talents, we must build infrastructure for bilingual education, such as through the recruitment of multilingual educators. We also must eliminate policy barriers to higher education for immigrant students who have so much to give in an atmosphere where their right to education is being deprived.
ACIE. (2021). 2021 Canvass of Dual Language and Immersion (DLI) Programs in US Public Schools. American Councils for International Education.
Atfeh, M., Duperrault, J., & Wejsa, S. (2019). A Dream Deferred: The Devastating Consequences of Restricting Undocumented Student Access to Higher Education in Georgia. Freedom University & Project South.
GaDOE. (2022). 2022 Four-Year Graduation Rate, table. Georgia Department of Education.
Higher Ed Immigration Portal. (2023). Georgia, webpage. Higher Ed Immigration Portal.
Owens, S. (2020). English Learners Deserve More: An Analysis of Georgia’s Education for Speakers of Other Languages. Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
Parker, N. (June 26, 2019). This is the third-most commonly spoken language in Georgia behind, English, Spanish. Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Note: The articles in this issue of the IDRA Newsletter feature the research and policy advocacy of IDRA’s education policy fellows. The IDRA Education Policy Fellows program is a nine-month fellowship designed to provide real-world training to advocates who represent the communities most impacted by state-level education policymaking. Get more information about the program, including how to support the fellows’ work.
Jonathan Peraza Campos, M.S. is an IDRA education policy fellow. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2023, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2023 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.]