Last month, the House of Representatives voted unanimously to include the World Language Advancement and Readiness Act (WLARA) as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020. However, the NDAA was passed in the House without a single Republican vote, marking the first time in history that the annual defense spending bill has not received bipartisan support. Hopefully, the amendment will be added to the Senate version of the bill during committee reconciliation this summer.
Advocacy efforts, led by the Joint National Committee for Languages/National Council for Languages and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS), have sought passage of the WLARA for several years, so House approval of the amendment marked a major step forward.
The WLARA seeks to expand language learning at the elementary and secondary levels. The amendment would create a grant program to increase and improve world language education in Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools and in local education agencies (LEAs), which would have to provide matching funds unless they could not afford them. At least 75% of funds are earmarked for elementary schools and the same percentage for languages deemed critical to national security.
According to the amendment, “Special consideration [will be given] to applications describing programs that: “include intensive summer world language programs for professional development of world language teachers; “link nonnative English speakers in the community with the schools in order to promote two-way language learning; “promote the sequential study of a world language for students, beginning in elementary schools; “make effective use of technology, such as computer-assisted instruction, language laboratories, or distance learning, to promote world language study; “promote innovative activities, such as dual-language immersion, partial world-language immersion, or content-based instruction; and are carried out through a consortium comprised of the eligible entity receiving the grant, an elementary school or secondary school, and an institution of higher education.”
Representative David Price (D-North Carolina), who introduced the amendment, commented, “The U.S. is lagging behind other nations in language proficiency, which threatens our ability to succeed in global military and diplomatic missions.”
Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), an early supporter and original sponsor of WLARA in the House, added, “The World Language Advancement and Readiness Act helps America keep pace with other developed nations by providing the language education our students need to secure good jobs, achieve success in global marketplaces, and successfully navigate multilingual business environments.
The legislation also helps build a pipeline for growing experts in languages that are critical to our national defense. I am grateful to Congressman Price for joining me in this important initiative to help us boost our national defense and global competitiveness.” Other cosponsors were Representatives Gil Cisneros (D-California), Rick Larsen (D-Washington), Jimmy Panetta (D-California), Jim Langevin (D-Rhode Island), and Seth Moulton (D-Massachusetts).
“None of this would have been possible without the connections our advocates have made over the past three to four years with members of Congress and staffers,” said Dr. Bill Rivers, executive director of JNCL-NCLIS. “I hope our advocates understand that this is the direct result of their impact. They deserve this victory.”