A French sign hangs on the door of foreign-language immersion program at J.C. Ellis Elementary School in Metairie. (The Times-Picayune archive)
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on June 03, 2013 at 5:52 PM, updated June 03, 2013 at 5:53 PM
A bill to give parents the power to petition for a foreign language immersion program at their child's school is nearing final approval after passage Monday on the House floor. An amendment to the bill will have to be approved by the Senate before heading to Gov. Bobby Jindal for his signature or veto.
Senate Bill 205 by state Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, would require local school boards to create a foreign language immersion program if they receive a written request from at least 25 parents. The parent-trigger would only be enforceable if there are teachers available for the program and if the school district doesn't already have an immersion program for that language.
While the bill passed with a healthy margin of 69-30, multiple lawmakers raised concerns that the legislation would amount to an unfunded mandate placed on local school districts. They said although the state allocates $20,000 extra for districts for every foreign language immersion teacher, this might not be enough to fund an entire program.
"We have to quit mandating to our school systems what they must do," state Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, said during floor debate. "It boils down to money. ... Right now they're not even funding the (public schools) enough to pay our teachers."
During committee testimony on the bill, local superintendents echoed that concern, saying even with the additional $20,000, they could not afford the programs.
The Minimum Foundation Program "certainly doesn't cover complete cost of the program or the ongoing costs," Iberia Parish Superintendent Dale Henderson told the House Committee on Education. He added including salary and benefits, each foreign language teacher costs almost twice as much as the amount given to them under the MFP allocation.
But proponents of the bill, including Carencro Democrat Stephen Ortego, said the cost of the programs would be paid for through the state's public school funding formula. He also highlighted other pros of foreign language immersion programs, including higher English-language test scores, which he called "a hell of a lagniappe."
State Reps. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, Karen Gaudet St. Germain, D-Plaquemine and Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette said the bill would further empower parents to have more control over their child's educational path.
"Foreign languages are not only a want, they're a need," St. Germain said.
Because of a technical amendment added on the House floor, the Senate must concur with the change before the bill can head to the governor's desk.
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