Bilingual programs spark a legal battle
Huston Chronicle Austin Bureau


Federal judge called for reforms in July, but state is appealing over cost

By JANET ELLIOTT Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

Dec. 19, 2008, 10:49PM

AUSTIN Federal Judge William Wayne Justice has ordered Texas officials to take immediate steps to improve bilingual education programs even as the state fights to postpone what they call costly measures.

The judge ruled in July that the state is failing to provide an equal education to middle and high school students struggling with English. He ordered improvements by the 2009-10 school year.

The state has appealed and wanted to put off program revisions because it has not received enough money and authority from the Legislature. But Justice, in an order released Friday, said requests for additional resources, if needed, could be presented to the Legislature when it convenes in January.

The legal battle involves about 145,000 students in middle and high school grades who are considered deficient in English. Evidence from state-mandated tests showed large achievement gaps for those students in core subjects.

After first ruling in 2007 that Texas was meeting its legal obligations to students with limited English proficiency, Justice reconsidered the evidence and ruled this year that it is out of compliance with federal laws that require students to get equal education opportunities.

Texas Education Agency general counsel David Anderson said the agency must now meet a Jan. 31 deadline to submit a plan to the court.

"We are doing our best to meet the court's order within our existing resources," he said.

Lawyers who brought the class-action case on behalf of Mexican-American students applauded the judge's latest ruling.

"It sends a message to the state that they need to get to work on developing appropriate programs for the secondary students so they can learn English," said David Hinojosa, a San Antonio-based staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which developed the legal case on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American GI Forum.

Improvements could include more professional development for teachers and more tutoring for students to enable them to graduate from high school, he said.