On Monday, December 21, the U.S. Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriations package, which provided $15m in new funding for the World Languages Advancement and Readiness Act (WLARA), in the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA). This grant program was enacted last year, and with the appropriation, is now funded. The efforts to create and fund WLARA began in 2015, when Rep. David Price (D-NC-4) and Rep. Don Young (R-All-Alaskans) introduced the World Languages Advancement Act, which was intended as an amendment to the Every Student Succeeds Act, then under negotiation in the House of Representatives. While the amendment failed—by a very narrow margin, and with bipartisan support for it—the language advocacy community pressed forwards. On February 28, 2017, Representatives Price and Young introduced a revised version, the World Languages Advancement and Readiness Act, following the presentation that day of America’s Languages: Investing in Language. Education for the 21st Century, the report of the Commission on Language Learning of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The report was requested by Congress and recommended that new ways of funding K-12 language programs be found.
It took two years of advocacy by the National Council for Languages and International Studies and thousands of individual language teachers and citizens sending messages of support to Congress, or advocating in-person, but the WLARA program was passed into law as part of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The reason for putting the program in the Department of Defense is simple: for the past 20 years or longer, the Department of Defense has a significant deficit in language capabilities, as documented by internal reports, the Joint Commission on the 9/11 attacks, multiple Government Accountability Office reports, and more. By increasing the number of young Americans with language skills, the WLARA program will create a larger pool for recruitment. It’s very important to note that the WLARA program does not require any service commitments from students—it will be up to the Department of Defense and the other agencies in the Federal Government to recruit students into public or military service.
The WLARA grants program will work as follows:
- The program will be administered by the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA).
- Three-year, competitive grants will be made.
- School districts which have a Junior Reserve Officer Training Program in the district will be eligible, as will schools administered by the Department of Defense Education Activity.
- 75% of the funding is reserved for languages which the Secretary of Defense determines to be critical to national security (https://dlnseo.org/content/flpb – that’s a long list! Pretty much every major language we teach is on it!).
- The remaining 25% can be used for any natural human language—so that covers ASL, the classical languages, Native American, Hawai’Ian, and Alaska Native Languages. The rationale is that bilingualism in any language has been proven to make learning additional languages easier and faster, so someone whose language skills aren’t exactly what the government needs would still be an attractive recruit.
We will need to be patient, as the law was only just passed, and it will take time for DoDEA to develop the regulations and Requests For Proposals for the program, but we should see grants being awarded by the end of the summer.
Dr. Bill Rivers is Principal, WP Rivers & Associates.
“Studies show that the U.S. lags behind its global peers in language and cultural skills, and the World Language Advancement and Readiness Grants program is a first step towards correcting these deficiencies and ensuring better opportunities for students and educators,” said Congressman Price. “I’m pleased this year’s government funding bill includes $15 million in funding to stand up this grant program, improving our national competitiveness in an increasingly globalized world.”
“We should be doing all we can to ensure that America’s students are equipped to become leaders in business and civic life,” said Congressman Don Young. “I have been a longtime advocate for advancing language and cultural skills. I am pleased that the omnibus includes first-ever funding for the World Language Advancement and Readiness Grants program, created in partnership with my good friend, Congressman David Price. This funding will help America keep pace with other nations by providing the language education our students need to secure good jobs, achieve success in global marketplaces, and successfully navigate multilingual business environments. Funding will also support building a pipeline for growing experts in the languages critical to our national defense. I am grateful to my colleagues for supporting this vital program, and will continue working for an America that leads the world in language skills and development.”
“The World Language Advancement and Readiness Grants program defines a new and essential pathway for the growth of programs that empower students to become multilingual, globally prepared citizens,” said Rita A. Oleksak, President of the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies. “By funding this program, Congress demonstrates that it understands that strong world language programs create a sustainable pipeline of multilingual talent critical to our country’s economic and national security. JNCL-NCLIS is grateful for the leadership of Representatives Price and Young in authorizing and now appropriating funding for this vital language program.”