Arkansas House Advances Education Bills Impacting Immigrants

The bills would allow teaching licensure for DACA students and bilingual education in public schools.

Arkansas House
Photo courtesy of the Arkansas House of Representatives.

House Bill 1451 would allow school districts to adopt approved bilingual programs and dual immersions programs. If approved, the legislation would not do away the state’s English-only law, sponsor Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, said. The bill has permissive language and simply gives districts the flexibility to implement such programs if they so choose.

Speaking against the legislation, Rep. Jim Wooten, R-Beebe, voiced concerns about creating more responsibilities for teachers. While Wooten acknowledged there is a “tremendous migrant population” in the state, he said immigrants should speak English. 

“If they’re going to be Americans they need to speak American, they need to talk English,” Wooten said. 

Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, spoke in favor of the bill. In the early ‘90s, Fite taught English as a second language at a River Valley school that offered a dual immersion program. The program benefited Fite’s students, who were mostly Laotian, she said. 

“They were able to learn math, history, science, all the subjects that they needed in their native language while they were learning English, and that way they were able to keep up and not fall further and further and further behind as they were acquiring language competence,” Fite said. 

The bill passed with a vote 63 yeas, 20 nays and 9 present. The House also approved House Bill 1594, which will allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program recipients to earn a teaching license in Arkansas. DACA recipients have legal work authorization and can earn a teaching degree, but under current law, they cannot obtain licensure in Arkansas. HB 1594 mirrors legislation passed in 2019 that permits the Arkansas Board of Nursing to grant licenses to DACA recipients.

HB 1594 passed by a vote of 84 yeas, 0 nays and 8 present. Both bills now head to the Senate Education Committee.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.