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Dems Propose Federal Grants to Help People Learn English

"This legislation will ensure that [English language learners] have access to high-quality instruction that enables them to acquire English and become prepared for postsecondary education and rewarding careers."

Three House Democrats have proposed legislation that would establish $500 million in federal grants to help people learn English.

The English Learning and Innovation Act, from Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), is aimed at what Garcia says is a growing number of students who need help learning English but are in schools that don't have the capacity to teach it effectively.

Teacher Amanda Filloy Sharp, right, reviewing potluck items with her students, from left Diego Munoz, Stephanie Vidrio, Thania Lopez and Cynthia Cruz, at the end of class in Corvallis, Ore. Democrats have a bill aimed at boosting federal grants to schools that need more capacity to teach English. (AP Photo/The Gazette-Times, Andy Cripe)

According to Garcia's office, 4.7 million students in grades K-12 were English language learners in 2008, a 60 percent increase since the 1990s. And while English learners will make up 25 percent of the total public school population by 2025, it's still difficult for many to learn the language.

To remedy that, the bill would set up two grant programs to help provide English language instruction.

"Innovation grants" would be given to entities that show a commitment to high-quality instruction, for the purpose of improving and increasing instruction and recruiting teachers.

The bill would also create "capacity building grants" that would go to schools that see a quick rise in English language learners. Funds under this grant would go toward ensuring enough capacity to instruct students.

The bill authorizes $100 million in spending on these grants each year, starting in 2015, for five years.

Democrats have proposed similar ideas in recent years, while Republicans have proposed legislation that would declare English as the official language of the United States, and would require immigrants to pass English language tests before becoming citizens.

While Republicans see the issue in the context of immigration, data provided by Garcia's office says about three-quarters of English language learners in elementary school are U.S. citizens, as are a bit more than half of secondary school students.

The bill is supported by groups like the National Education Association, National Council of La Raza, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.

Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) are cosponsors of Garcia's bill.

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