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HomeLanguage NewsnewsRelaunch of America’s Languages Caucus

Relaunch of America’s Languages Caucus

Despite new bipartisan leadership of the caucus, congressional budget cuts close 13 language flagship programs

In April, America’s Languages Caucus was relaunched with the addition of new House co-chair Representative Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia 2). First-term congresswoman Kiggans, who joined Jimmy Panetta (D-California 20) in this important leadership role, brings her Japanese experience to the position. Prior to being winged as a naval aviator in 1995, Kiggans taught English for a year as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. During this time, she developed a strong admiration for the Japanese people, their language, and their culture. Later on, Kiggans lived at Naval Air Facility Atsugi as a military spouse for three years while her husband was deployed in Japan, but her fascination with the country, its language, and its culture goes back to high school, when she studied in Japan on the Youth for Understanding student exchange program.

Kiggans’s district includes the Virginia Beach Public School System, which is home to an innovative world language program and the recipient of two multiyear World Language Advancement and Readiness Program (WLARP) grants.

“As someone who taught English in Japan as a part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program and later lived there as a Navy spouse, I have a deep understanding and great appreciation for the critical role language education plays in the lives of countless Americans and [for] our friends across the globe,” Kiggans told the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL). “I am excited to work alongside my colleague Congressman Panetta to advocate for legislation that will help American students learn additional languages and allow them to thrive in our increasingly connected world.”

The America’s Languages Caucus was established in 2019 by Representative Price (D-North Carolina 4) and Representative Young (R-Alaska) as a bipartisan effort to support and enhance foreign language competence and international education among students and professionals across the US. In 2021, the caucus became bicameral with the addition of Senate co-chairs Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia). The bipartisan, bicameral caucus is currently made up of 24 members of Congress.

Congress Cuts Language Flagship Funding
Due to a “congressional change in funding,” the US Department of Defense is withdrawing financing for more than a third of the 31 language flagship programs it had supported at 23 universities nationwide.

“The decision by the National Security Education Program under the US Department of Defense to terminate funding for the [University of Oregon’s] Chinese Flagship in 2024 was shocking, given the national strategic security interest in promoting professional-level language proficiency in languages like Chinese and Korean,” Zhuo Jing-Schmidt, director of the Chinese Flagship Program at the University of Oregon, told InsideHigherEd. com. Grants for 13 flagship programs were not renewed for the 2024–28 cycle, comprising five of the 13 Chinese programs, four Russian, three Arabic, and one Portuguese. One new program was approved— Portuguese at the University of Arizona— so only 19 out of 31 will be open next academic year.

Amanda Seewald, executive director of the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS), made the point that “Congress needs to see this as a priority and the funding for the programs should be set in a solidified way that can best serve our nation.

It is a statement of our national values of diplomacy and national security and the impact of language education on our ability to address global issues.”

The Defense Department has not commented on the decision to cut the programs, but an online petition calling for the reinstatement of the five Chinese language flagship programs has been launched: www.change.org/p/reinstate-west-coast-chinese-flagship-universities

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