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Texas Senate
Senator Judith Zaffirini: District 21
Press Release
January 26, 2009
Contact: Celeste Villarreal
(512) 463-0121
Senator Zaffirini Files Bilingual Education Reform Legislation

(AUSTIN) — Responding to several recent court rulings highlighting the urgent need for bilingual education reform, Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed today (Monday) filed Senate Bill 548, relating to public school accountability for bilingual education and English as a second language and other special language programs.

On July 25 U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice reversed his previous ruling and cited the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for not reporting accurately test scores and dropout rates for secondary English Language Learner (ELL) students. Noting that TEA lacked a trained program monitor, he said it was likely that eligible students were not being identified for certain bilingual programs.

Judge Justice also stressed that Texas has failed its secondary ELL students. He gave TEA until Jan. 31 to propose plans to remedy the state's bilingual program. The plan must be implemented by the 2009-10 school year.

TEA appealed the decision and requested a Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending Appeal to avoid the Jan. 31 deadline. On Dec. 19 the federal district court denied TEA's request, emphasizing that now is the time to address the failed secondary ESL program and monitoring system.

"I am very pleased that the court focused attention on this special group of learners," Senator Zaffirini said. "We must maintain the highest standards in educating all students and in precluding drop outs."

Senator Zaffirini's legislation not only will address specific problems regarding bilingual program monitoring, but also will focus on district and agency accountability for ELL students.

SB 548 would require TEA to disaggregate all data regarding ELL students to campus levels; report the high school dropout rate separately from the middle school dropout rate; and analyze data relating to waivers, referral and retention rates, and discrepancies in achievement among ELL and non-ELL students. The bill also would direct districts found in noncompliance in these areas to submit a detailed improvement plan to ensure that the needs of ELL students are met.

"Ensuring that achievement levels of all ELL students are being accounted for and reported properly must be our first goal," Senator Zaffirini said. "We cannot adequately address their needs if we do not have a clear picture of the achievement gap among ELL and non-ELL students."

SB 548 will be considered by the 81st Texas Legislature, which convened on Jan. 13.