Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The Johnson Years: Bilingual Education - ESEA Title VII
In 1968, in addition to Title I programs, the Johnson administration embraced the idea of federal aid for bilingual programs to serve a rising number of non-English-speaking immigrant students. The federal Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 had eliminated "national-origin quotas" that had been in place for more than forty years and had allowed unprecedented numbers of immigrants to enter the United States, especially from Asia and Latin America. In the mid-1960s, a number of states, including Florida, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico had begun to experiment with local bilingual programs, and, in 1967, Congress held hearings on the possibility of directing federal aid toward these programs. At the end of that year, Congress added Title VII, the Bilingual Education Act, to the ESEA. "The purpose of this [bill]," the Senate subcommittee on education asserted, "is to provide a solution to the problem of those children who are educationally disadvantaged because of their inability to speak English."
Aimed at immigrant children whose parents earned less than $3,000 a year, Title VII provided start-up funds for "exemplary pilot or demonstration projects in bilingual and bicultural education in a variety of settings." Aid, however, was limited: of the 300 applications for aid to bilingual education in 1968, fewer than 80 programs were funded. Also, Title VII aid to bilingual programs faced some of the same problems that Title I aid to compensatory education had faced-particularly in the realm of racial desegregation. Congress initially prohibited the use of Title VII grants for foreign-language instruction, which meant that English-speaking students could not be placed in bilingual classes (for example, to learn Spanish, Chinese, Haitian-Creole, etc.). This policy, however, virtually guaranteed that Title VII programs would be racially imbalanced. As a result, Congress later changed the Title VII regulations to allow the placement of both English-speaking and non-English-speaking students in federally funded bilingual programs. (Persistent racial isolation in bilingual and other compensatory education programs has continued to dog the ESEA, because so many eligible students are African American and Hispanic American.)