The New Administration and Languages

A summary from JNCL (Joint National Committee on Languages), our legislative advocate in Washington.

The New Administration, the 111th Congress,

the Economic Stimulus Package, and Languages

Now that the President and Congress have been in office for a month and produced a massive economic stimulus package, it might be useful to speculate a bit on the role of languages in the United States in the near future. The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2011 contains $115 billion for education, which is roughly twice the Department of Education’s annual budget of $59 billion. Some of these funds, such as the $680 million for vocational rehabilitation or $2 billion for child care will have little impact on language.  A higher education tax credit of $13.9 billion, $13 billion for Title I, $12.2 billion for special education, $900 million for technology, and $200 million for work study may have some tangential effect on languages. However, it is possible that the $53.6 billion directed to state aid for schools and critical needs will be used to save teaching positions and critical programs including foreign languages. The increase of $15.6 for Pell grants may contribute to SMART grants, including foreign languages and $400 million to address teacher quality, should include languages particularly if it is focused on areas of national need. Finally the Education Secretary will have a $5 billion discretionary incentive fund. Past discretionary funds have been very, very small by comparison but have included foreign languages. Turning now to the new Administration, President Obama did address the importance of foreign languages during his campaign. His new Treasury Secretary charged with fixing the broken economy has considerable international experience and a degree in international studies from SAIS. He graduated from high school in Indonesia and speaks several Asian languages. The Secretaries of Labor and State have considerable international experience and have been strong champions of foreign languages. The Interior Secretary’s first language was Spanish. The Director of the CIA –designate Leon Panetta was co-chair of the House-Senate International Education Study Group and authored legislation such as the Foreign Language Assistance Act and the Global Education Opportunities Act. The 111th Congress will add a number of new foreign language advocates to the nation’s legislative branch. For example, Oregon’s new Senator, Jeff Merkley, is a former president of the World Affairs Council of Oregon and has studied and worked in Ghana, Italy, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Belgium, India, and Central America. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has monitored elections in Nigeria, Armenia, and the Middle East and, like new Senator Jim Risch (R-ID), has led numerous trade missions to other countries. Representative Glenn Nye (D-VA) is a former Foreign Service Officer who speaks Albanian and has worked in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, Macedonia, and Singapore. Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) who was born in Lima, Peru, worked in finance and technology throughout Latin America. This Rhodes Scholar actually did some of his campaigning in Spanish. Rep. Anh Joseph Cao (R-CA) is fluent in English, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Spanish. In addition to the economic recovery act, it is our understanding that the omnibus appropriations bill for this fiscal year (the nation has been running on a continuing resolution) has been conferenced and should be enacted within a week or two. While it is not certain, foreign languages should receive a small spending increase. Three bills dealing with language – English Plus, English as the Official Language, and grants to LEAs for foreign languages – have already been introduced in the 111th Congress. JNCL/NCLIS has been in contact and met with Congressional staff regarding reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (NCLB) and new legislation dealing with language teaching, language leadership and/or coordination, language partnerships and articulation, and funding for next fiscal year.