In the 1960s there were no state bilingual programs; many states actually had English-only instruction laws on their books. After the Civil Rights Act and the Bilingual Education Act, states began to take more initiative. In 1971, Massachusetts became the first state to establish a bilingual mandate. Under this mandate, any school that had 20 or more students of the same language background was required to implement some sort of bilingual program.
A decade later, 11 more states had passed bilingual education laws, and an additional 19 offered some sort of legislative efforts in that direction. Today, bilingual or ESL education is offered in some form by every state.* Not surprisingly, those states with the highest concentration of immigrants (New York, California, Texas, Florida) tend to have the most comprehensive programs. In fact, according to data from the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education (NCBE), 18 of the 20 urban school districts with the highest LEP enrollment are in one of these four states. Some states fund all bilingual education programs; others fund only bilingual or only ESL programs.
It should be noted that bilingual needs can differ widely from state to state or district to district. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Spanish-speaking students make up nearly three-quarters of all LEP students in the United States. But in a district in which the predominant foreign language is Chinese, Vietnamese, or Hindi, the needs would of course be geared toward those languages. Local schools can create effective bilingual programs based on their specific needs. At the William Barton Rogers School in Boston, for example, a transitional program for middle-school LEP students who speak Vietnamese has met with success; likewise, a program for elementary school students in the Madawaska School District in Maine has been successful with French-speaking students.
Because each state's needs are different, and because those needs are subject to change, the best way to get comprehensive and up-to-date information on each state's initiatives is to contact individual state education departments.
Obtaining information about bilingual grants, programs, and other initiatives is much easier today than it was in the past thanks to the Internet. Federal, state, and local government agencies offer a surprising variety of information on their web sites. Those who do not own a computer can access these sites at any local public library. Following is a sampling of what is available.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs (OBEMLA) is in charge of awarding Title VII grants to both state and local education initiatives agencies. There are 12 types of discretionary grants, which cover training, development, implementation, school reform programs, and foreign language instruction. These grants are awarded only to "education-related organizations." Individuals are not eligible for Title VII grants.
A good beginning resource for anyone who wishes to find out about programs, grants, and other information on bilingual education and bilingual initiatives is the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education (NCBE). Funded by OBEMLA, this organization collects and analyzes information and also provides links to other organizations.
Each state's Department of Education provides information on its statewide and local bilingual initiatives; the easiest way to find this information is to visit individual state education department web sites. Also, large cities such as New York, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco provide information on their web sites about their comprehensive bilingual programs.
*Important Notice and Disclaimer: Because cases and laws about bilingualism state and local initiatives are constantly subject to change and be amended over time, it is wise to check with a local attorney in your area who can advise you about the status of education laws in your state and local district.