Education Committee Advances Legislation Permitting Bilingual Programs

The bill would also allow school districts to adopt dual immersion programs.

Judith Yanez speaking in House Education Committee meeting
Judith Yanez from RootED NWA provides testimony during the House Education Committee meeting Mar. 11, 2021.

The state’s English-only requirement for the language of instruction in public schools currently prohibits bilingual programs. House Bill 1451 would not do away with that law, but it would allow districts to adopt a model of bilingual education or dual immersion program approved by the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

While presenting the bill to the House Education Committee yesterday, sponsor Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, said 48 other states allow such programs. 

“Bilingualism is an asset whether you’re an English learner or a native English speaker,” Godfrey said. “Knowing a second language makes you more culturally competent and competitive in the workforce.”

Business leaders, including the Fayetteville and Rogers-Lowell Area Chambers of Commerce, support the bill. Geovanny Sarmiento, vice president of community engagement and inclusion at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, said they’ve incorporated Spanish-language programs for entrepreneurs into their offerings and have had record participation. 

On a personal level, Sarmiento said he and his wife are committed to raising bilingual children. His 9-year-old daughter has Down Syndrome, but is still able to understand two languages. 

“If you provide the right learning environment for our children in Arkansas they will do the rest. They will be successful,” he said.

Judith Yanez is the executive director of RootED NWA, a nonprofit established in 2017 to ensure Latino parents understand their education options and are able to advocate for their child’s education. It’s important for parents to have options and bilingual education is an option parents want, Yanez said. 

“Understanding the diverse and complex ways in which people learn means acknowledging the diversity that exists within our communities, and it also means recognizing the varying learning needs of students,” she said.  

All 11 people who offered testimony yesterday spoke in favor of the bill. HB 1451 passed on a voice vote and is headed to the full House.  

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.