Senate approves plan to increase bilingual teachers and school support

With increasing numbers of bilingual students in Washington state, the Senate today approved Sen. Hans Zeiger’s legislation creating the Bilingual Educator Initiative, a program to recruit and prepare current bilingual high school students to become future teachers and counselors.

“As Washington becomes increasingly diverse with more languages spoken, it is critical for us to have a bilingual workforce in our public schools,” said Zeiger, R-Puyallup, who serves as chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. “Having teachers who can communicate and better assist students with different levels of language proficiency will improve high school graduation rates and reduce Washington’s opportunity gap.”

Under the plan the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction would create and implement a pilot project in four school districts throughout the state where immigrant student populations are rapidly increasing. The districts would be split with two each in Eastern and Western Washington.

The school districts would then partner with local two- and four-year colleges to plan and implement the program with the goal of creating a student pipeline to the schools after identifying and mentoring students still in high school. Participants in a similar program in Skagit Valley called Maestros Para el Pueblo — Teachers for the Community — testified in public hearings about the potential benefits.

“Maestros Para el Pueblo has given me the tools and opportunities to identify what my community needs,” said Jose Cervantes, a student in the Mount Vernon School District. “We know our schools need bilingual teachers and this bill a good start. As a future teacher in Washington state, especially a bilingual one, I am happy to know that my state will support me in these goals.”

Students involved in the program would receive loans for college tuition, fees and books, following high school graduation. If they earn the necessary degree and teaching or guidance counselor certification and serve in those roles for at least five years the loans would not need to be repaid.

The legislation, which passed unanimously, now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration on the 59th day of the 2017 legislative session.