A bill that requires high school students to learn a world language passed unanimously out of the Senate Education Committee Tuesday with a favorable recommendation.
SB 219 – World Language Proficiency Recognition, which is sponsored by Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper), establishes proficiency in a world language as a graduation requirement.
Stephenson noted that Utah is a national leader in dual language immersion and foreign language instruction. “We are considered the world language state in the nation. There is no other state in the nation that has even close to the percentage of children who are learning a second language as Utah is.” He believes it’s time for Utah to put it’s money where it’s mouth is. “There are some bills whose times have come, and this is one whose time has clearly come.”
Laura Belnap, a member of the state school board, but speaking as a private citizen, is concerned that rural school districts will have to redistribute funds in order to invest in language education. “They’re lucky if they have one foreign language teacher in that area for what they have now. We would have to at least double the number of foreign language teachers we have at this point. What are we going to have to give up to provide that?” She also took issue with lawmakers setting graduation requirements, which is typically the purview of the board of education.
Stephenson contends that his bill will not increase costs for school districts. He says that students will not be taking any additional credits. “We all have heard the stories of the wasted senior year. That is the case for many students. That’s why we have the Regents’ Scholarship and other incentives for students to make their high school experience worthwhile and not to let that senior year be a stagnant year.”
Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) is skeptical of Stephenson’s assertion that the bill won’t cost any money. “As a guy who spent a lot of his adult life living outside the United States, I think our program is terrific. As we sat a session or two ago and honored the Chinese teachers who really are giving so much, it became evident to me how ingrained into our Utah culture these programs are. I just hope that we’re not under the illusion that all of this can happen and it’s not really going to cost any money and there won’t be any sacrifice involved.”
Gregg Roberts, world language and dual language immersion specialist for the Utah State Office of Education, said that the state has many underused world language teachers who could be shuffled around, so it would not be a significant hardship for school districts.
The bill now heads to the Senate floor for debate.