The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of May 12, 1995, the gentleman from Wisconsin [Mr. Roth] is recognized during morning business for 3 minutes.
Mr. ROTH. Mr. Speaker, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee prepares to hold hearings tomorrow on the issue of making English our official language. One of the issues that heavily dominates that debate is this issue of bilingual education, which was started as part of the Great Society Program back in 1968 and has grown and mushroomed to the juggernaut that it is today. I wish to put this problem into a proper perspective.
Mr. Speaker, a quick look at some startling facts will tell us all we need to know. Today, 32 million Americans don't speak English. In just 5 years, that number will increase to 40 million. English is a foreign language for one in seven Americans.
For most of our Nation's history, America gave the children of immigrants a precious gift--an education in the English language. As each new wave of immigrants arrived on these shores, our public school system taught their sons and daughters English, so they could claim their place in the American dream.
What are we doing for these new Americans today? Instead of a first-rate education in English, our bilingual education programs are consigning an entire generation of new Americans--unable to speak, understand, and use English effectively--to a second-class future.
This tragedy has human faces. Let me tell you about two people's experiences which will illustrate the impact of our failed bilingual education programs. I've never heard the problems with bilingual education more poignantly put than in the words of Ernesto Ortiz, a foreman on a south Texas ranch who said: 'My children learn Spanish in school so they can become busboys and waiters. I teach them English at home so they can become doctors and lawyers.' Ernesto understands that English is the language of opportunity in the country. He understands that denying his children a good education in English will doom them to a limited--as opposed to limitless--future.
Bilga Abramova also understands this simple truth. Bilga is a 35-year-old Russian refugee who has entered a church lottery three times in an attempt to win 1 of 50 coveted spaces in a free, intensive English class offered by her local parish. Her pleas in Russian speak volumes about the plight of all too many immigrants: 'I need to win,' she said. 'Without English, I cannot begin a new life.'
The ultimate paradox about our commitment to bilingual education in this country is that Bilga and others like her all across the country are on waiting lists for intensive English classes while we spend $8 billion a year teaching children in their native language.
You've heard from parents like Ernesto Ortiz and how they feel about bilingual education. Even teachers oppose these programs. A recent survey of 1,000 elementary and secondary teachers found that 64 percent of these teachers disapproved of bilingual education programs and favored intensive English instruction instead.
Even longtime defenders of these programs are starting to change their tune. The California Board of Education approved a new policy last month in which they abandoned their preference for bilingual education programs.
This year marks the 27th year of bilingual education programs. For more and more people, that is 27 years too long. It is time to take a fresh look at this problem. Bilingual education has had 27 years and billions of dollars to prove that it accomplished what it said it would do in 1968: teach children English quickly and effectively. Too many people lose sight of the fact that the real issue here is how to help children and newcomers who don't know English and who need to assimilate.
Let us not forget about Ernesto Ortiz and his children, about Bilga Abramova and other new Americans like them. While a Senate committee will discuss this issue for the first time tomorrow, Ernesto and Bilga have already given us their testimony on bilingual education, in words and in images. We must not lose sight of the fact that this is not just an abstract public policy issue; bilingual education and our national language policies have real world consequences. When our policies fail, the failures have names and faces attached to them. When our policies serve to divide rather than unite us, the rips appear in the very fabric of the American Nation. Don't underestimate this issue's importance. This is an issue that can affect the very future of new Americans and America itself.