As a new school year gets underway, a new law is helping pre-schoolers in Illinois learn English as their second language.
The Illinois legislature ratified the bilingual education lay last, making Illinois the first state to require public schools mandate bilingual education for 3- and 4-year-olds who don't speak the language. Previously schools were only required to help children in kindergarten through 12th grade. The mandate covers 585 preschool programs, which are run and funded by public school districts, and serve about 85,000 students, state officials said to the Chicago Tribune.
Under the new regulations, school officials are first required to determine whether students speak another language at home, then measure how well they speak and understand English. Depending on the student's needs, the student will be registered in a bilingual preschool class, where they will study academic skills in their basic language, while learning English at the same time.
Currently, the law requires schools to have a bilingual classroom when at least 20 students share a native language other than English. If there are fewer students, an English as a second language program is offered.
Proponents of the policy changes say it recognizes that the population of dual language learners is growing, and they need attention in the school system. But critics argue the new rules don't consider how young learners grow and process information differently than older children.
Local school districts are cramming to comply with the new requirements that come without additional funding. "It seems as though this is just creating a problem unnecessarily," said superintendent Roger Prosise, of Diamond Lake School District 76, to the Chicago Tribune. Prosise says in his district, nearly a quarter of the district's 1,170 students don't speak English as their first language.
But some education experts say although the state's resources may be scarce, these new requirements could benefit school systems by helping to pin down the academic divide that currently exists.