During this legislative session, Texas lawmakers are debating the merits of expanding or improving prekindergraden classes. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will push to expand the quality of the classes, while others say making them a full day instead of half a day would be a better opinion.
But bilingual educators in Dallas-Fort Worth, who will meet next week at their annual conference in Dallas, say improving pre-k is just the first step. Other issue are just as important to ensure Texas has an educated workforce for the future.
At a time when more than 50 percent of the state’s public school students are Latinos and almost 15 percent are English language learners, serveral bilingual educators said restoring funding for bilingual programs has never been more crucial.
Public education funding lost in cuts from four years ago was never fully restored, and included drastic cuts to bilingual education programs, said Mryna Blanchard, president of the bilingual education association of the Metroplex. Since then, the number of English language learners has continued to grow.
“ There was a decrease in funding at a time when there’s been an increase in student enrollment, especially of that population that is struggling economically,” Blancard said.
Numerous national studies show that poverty can be a big contributor to poor academic performance. More than 85 percent of students in Dallas ISD are economically disadvantaged.
Rudy Rodriguez, a retired University of North Texas bilingual education professor, said such a large number of poor kids usually indicates an equally large need for additional educational resources.
“These kids typically struggle with academics and need support services that tend to be more costly,” Rodriguez said. “ Previously, there were funds set aside for special support services for struggling learners to deal with state exams, to get kids up to par, and remedial compensatory services.”
Those programs also were cut and never fully restored. In addition, Blancard said, the bilingual certification test has become increasingly difficult.“ Only less than 50 percent of teachers taking it pass it, and this comes at a time when there is a drastic need for bilingual teachers”, she said
The Dallas school district, for example has one of the largest dual-language programs in the state-and perhaps in the nation. But district officials had to go looking for bilingual teachers in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Colombia and Spain to fill the need.
State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, acknowledged that the funding for bilingual education programs is still too low. “There’s a huge need for funds,” he said. “And even though we have debate in Austin, there is a recognition that bilingual education is here, it’s needed, and it needs to be funded.”
But with a GOP-controlled state House and legislators talking about tax cuts, bilingual educators are not optimistic. And while Blancard said she supported the push for improving or expanding pre-K programs in Texas, she hopes legislators don’t forget about the rest of the school system.
“ I think they also need to think about family programs for those who’ve chosen not to put their kids in pre-K,” she said. “And let’s not forget about the gap in middle school and high school, where the students are also struggling.”