In what is being hailed as a major step forward for language education across the United States, the House of Representatives voted to approve the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Sept. 24. The act includes authorization for the Bilingual Education Seal and Teaching Act (BEST), and if approved by the Senate, the act would sanction federal support for the establishment of Seal of Biliteracy programs in school districts across the nation.
The BEST Act has strong support from the Joint National Committee for Languages-National Council for Languages and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS), which sees the act as a means of establishing an education system that encourages linguistic diversity and uplifts its multilingual students by taking on an “asset-based approach” to educating students who do not speak English as a first language.
“Today’s House action is an incredible step toward a more equitable and positive focus on language learning in this country,” said Amanda Seewald, the president of the JNCL-NCLIS. “The BEST Act will empower our schools with the means to provide opportunities for all students to be recognized for their multilingualism.”
Kentucky most recently became the 45th state in the nation to establish its own Seal of Biliteracy program (coincidentally, on the same day that the House approved the NDAA). Seal of Biliteracy programs are instituted widely across the country and serve to award students who study and achieve a high level of proficiency in two or more languages.
The amendment to include the BEST Act was first introduced by Representative Julia Brownley (D-CA), whose home state was the first in the country to officially adopt the Seal of Biliteracy program. According to Brownley, this amendment was met with wide bipartisan support, indicating good news for the bill’s future in the Senate. In order for the NDAA to become law, the Senate must vote to approve it; Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) is the BEST Act’s lead sponsor, according to the JNCL-NCLIS.
“This asset-based approach to multilingualism is the key to our ability to compete in a global economy and is vital to our national security,” Seewald said. JNCL-NCLIS thanks Rep. Brownley for her leadership and we are grateful for the support of her fellow House members for voting in favor of this important legislation. We look forward to the Senate ratifying the House approved version of the NDAA.”