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31 May 2019
May 31, 2019

May 2019 Legislative Update

Take a peek at JNCL-NCLIS’ work on Capitol Hill regarding Language Education and Language Industry issues.

Language Education

With respect to legislation on language education, JNCL-NCLIS has visited 300+ offices on Capitol Hill since the beginning of the 116th session asking Congress to address the recommendations of America’s Languages, the report of the Commission on Language Learning via the following bills:

The World Languages Advancement and Readiness Act (HR 1094)

HR1094 is gaining steam in the House! We’ve added three new cosponsors just the last week of May (Rep. Panetta, [D-CA-20]; Rep. Larsen, [D-WA-2]; Rep. Dean, [D-PA-4]), which puts us at 23 total.

“WLARA” was introduced on February 9th by Rep. David E. Price (D-NC-4) and Rep. Don Young (R-All Alaskans). It has 18 additional sponsors at present, and we are working with Mr. Price and Mr. Young’s offices on moving the bill through the House Armed Services Committee as an amendment to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

The bill would create a program in the Department of Defense, to ward 3-year grants to local education agencies to establish high quality language programs. The bill stipulates that 75% of the funding would be used for languages that the Secretary of Defense deems critical to national security, with the remaining 25% available to support all other natural human languages, to include the Classics, American Indian, and ASL.

The bill emphasizes evidence-based and outcomes-based programming, as well as the integration of STEM and languages. It promotes inclusion of underserved students as well as innovation in blended and distance delivery of language programs. As a reminder, the bill came within one vote of passage last year as an en-bloc amendment to the FY19 NDAA.

Although there is not yet a companion bill in the Senate, JNCL-NCLIS is working with two senior members, a democrat and republican, to introduce WLARA in that chamber before the August recess.

The Paul Simon Study Abroad Act (S.1198)

“Paul Simon” was introduced in the Senate on April 11th. It would create grants to Institutes of Higher Education, and to consortia of Institutes of Higher Education and nonprofits, to provide grants for study abroad, with emphasis on making study abroad more equitable and accessible. It has three senior sponsors: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Minority Whip and the Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT). The bill would amend Title VII, Part A of the Higher Education Act, placing the program in the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education. The Paul Simon Act has Board support, from a coalition of Higher Education organizations including the American Association of Universities, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, the American Council on Education, NAFSA, and of course, JNCL-NCLIS. There is no House bill as of yet.

The Reaching America’s English Learners Act

This bill was introduced in the House as H.R. 1153 by Representatives Jim Langevin (D-RI-2) and Will Hurd (R-TX-23). (As an aside, Mr. Hurd is a former CIA Officer who speaks Urdu). In the Senate, it was introduced as S. 545 by Senators Cortez-Masto (D-NV) and Cornyn (R-TX). The bill amends Title II of the Higher Education Act to create a grant program for Schools of Education in consortia with local education agencies, to train more dual language immersion and bilingual education teachers. JNCL-NCLIS is part of a broad consortium of organizations supporting this bill, including the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, the National Association for Bilingual Education, TESOL, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, AFT, and NEA, among others.

Title VI Reauthorization

Two identical bills have been introduced in the Senate (S. 342, sponsored by Senators Baldwin (D-WI) and Young (R-IN)) and House (H.R. 2562, sponsored by Rep. Price (D-NC-4), Davis (D-CA-53) and Levin (D-MI-9). The bill reauthorizes all of the currently funded programs in Title VI, and amends the Institutional Research and Studies Program, chaining it to “International Research and Innovation” and adding a section on “Innovation Grants” aimed at distance learning and networking of expertise in world languages and international studies. The bills reflect the work of a Task Force of the Coalition for International Education, which provided drafts to the Congress in 2013. JNCL-NCLIS, the American Councils for International Education, and ACTFL were represented on the Task Force.

The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act

This bill, which reauthorizes programs to support Native American languages in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was introduced as two identical bills in the Senate (S. 256, sponsored by Sen. Udall (D-NM)), and H.R. 912, sponsored by Rep. Luján (D-NM-3). It has passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Its further prospects are unclear. JNCL-NCLIS supports this bill.

The Biliteracy Education Seal and Teaching Act

This bill would create a prop gram of 2-year grants to State Education Agencies to develop, implement, or improve the Seal of Biliteracy, with additional funding for high-impact districts to defray the cost of testing for biliteracy, is expected to be introduced by Representative Julia Brownley (D-CA-26) in late May to coincide with high school graduations and Seal of Biliteracy awards ceremonies across the nation.

An Important Victory

The Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) funded through Title III of HEA was defended against a Trump administration proposal to “reorganize” the office. JNCL-NCLIS, as a part of the National English Learner Roundtable, is dedicated to the promotion and advancement of English language learners in the US. At the beginning of 2018, the Trump administration proposed reorganization, and essentially elimination, of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA). We are pleased to report that the Department of Education, due to the Roundtable’s advocacy efforts via direct interactions and public pressure, have been abandoned. The Director and Deputy Director of OELA have both publicly stated that the once looming threat of reorganization has passed.

Multiliteracy Symposium at the Department of the Education

On May 6th, JNCL-NCLIS helped organize and host the 2nd Multiliteracy Symposium at the DoE in Washington, DC under the auspices of OELA. The symposium explored the diverse cultural and linguistic assets of all students with national leaders in research, practice, and policy. JNCL-NCLIS organized a morning session on the intelligence community’s needs for languages, and an afternoon session about the positive recognition to high school multilingual provided through the national movement, the Seal of Biliteracy program.

Language Industry Issues

On May 1, JNCL-NCLIS led members of the Association of Languages Companies (ALC) to Capitol Hill to discuss the following issues facing the language industry:

Contracting reform

In 2016 and 2018, the Congress passed legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act limiting the ability of the government to procure knowledge-based services through vehicles such as Lowest Price Technically Acceptable or Reverse Auctions. This was led by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC-11), and had the active support of JNCL-NCLIS. In the current congress, we have requested that the Government Accountability Office(GAO) examine the implementation of this provision via an official report.

Prevailing Wages

JNCL-NCLIS has asked that a letter be sent to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, requesting that BLS ascertain whether its methodology for determining the national prevailing wages of translators, interpreters, and language teachers produce accurate results. At present, the BLS indicates that the prevailing wage for translators and interpreters is $24/hr. These rates are vitally important in certain types of federal contracts, and they also are used as part of the Department of Labor’s annual occupational forecast. As the language industry has extensive data indicating that the BLS figures are roughly half of what is actually paid by the industry, the discrepancy poses significant problems in federal procurements as well as in terms of publicity for these professions.

Department of Labor

JNCL-NCLIS is working with the senior staff of Department of Labor to raise the issue of prevailing wages, of equitable audits of the Service Contracting Act, and of overly aggressive employee classification audits.

Public Charge Rule

JNCL-NCLIS is part of a large coalition of organizations representing immigrant rights, employers, and economic development, opposed to the Trump administration’s proposed change to the Public Charge Rule, which was announced late last Fall. In short, the Public Charge Rule establishes that immigrants and entrants to the US may be denied entry, denied legal residence, or denied naturalization, based on the potential that the individual may become a “public charge,” that is, reliant on public funding. At present, the types of funding are limited to long-term health care in nursing homes, as well as a few smaller programs. The Trump administration has proposed a vast expansion of the types of programs under this rule. This proposal has had a significant effect on immigrant communities, even though it has yet to be finalized. Immigrants have been avoiding benefits to which they are entitled, and in terms of community and health care services, this includes language access. For that reason, at the request of several industry members of JNCL-NCLIS, we became involved, asked our members and followers to comment, and brought the National English Language Round Table in as well. More than one million comments opposing the rule were received; even if the rule goes forwards, it will face significant challenges in federal courts.