Advocacy groups are denouncing a proposed merging of the federal Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) into the Office for Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE). Education Department officials have said that the restructuring plan would enable the Department of Education to merge English-learner support with services provided to other disadvantaged student groups.
Director of the OELA José Viana explained the thinking behind the proposal, “Any potential merger is meant to improve policy and program coordination between OELA and OESE to ensure EL students have the support, attention, and resources they deserve from the Department.”
Last week, a coalition of organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, UnidosUS, TESOL International Association, Joint National Committee for Languages, National Association for Bilingual Education, California Association for Bilingual Education, Center for Applied Linguistics, and Californians Together sent a long letter to Secretary of Education Betsy Devos expressing their opposition to the proposed reorganization, suggesting that it may contravene federal law—“20 USC §3420 clearly states that there shall be a Director of OELA, reporting to the Secretary. “Dual-hatting” another political appointee would necessarily and inevitably diminish the time, attention, and supporting expertise and analysis applied to EL issues, as statutorily required, and may well exacerbate staffing shortfalls in OELA,” and that it would indicate that English Learners (ELs) were not a priority of the Administration.
The letter continued, “we believe that the present time affords an opportunity to strengthen OELA,” and recommended “that OELA retain its current organizational profile, to include a full-time Director, at the Assistant Deputy Secretary level, who reports to the Secretary…that the formula grants under Title III of the Every Student Succeeds Act should be once again administered by OELA,” and that its budget and staff be increased in line with the growing number of ELs in the U.S.
Viana stressed that, “The Department is still in the preliminary stages of this important process. Be assured that feedback from the EL community is valued and appreciated.”
José Viana will be interviewed in the June edition of Language Magazine.