Community Challenges Cuts To Bilingual Education in State Budget

April 8th, 2011
Rosa Gutierrez testifies before the Michigan House K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. Next to Rosa (on her right) is Rep. Rashida Tlaib from southwest Detroit. (Photo courtesy of Our Kids Come First.)

Parents in southwest Detroit are concerned that plans to end State funding for bilingual instruction will harm their children’s learning and future success as citizens and workers.

Governor Rick Synder’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year discontinues all $2.8 million allocated for bilingual education.

Last week (on March 29, 2011), a group representing the grass-roots coalition “Our Kids Come First” went to Lansing to press the Michigan legislature not to adopt this proposed cut.

Rosa Gutierrez, a parent leader in the coalition, testified before the Michigan House K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

“Many Latino families, many immigrant families came to this country for a better future for our children,” Rosa said to the subcommittee. “We believe in the promise of this great country, and we are asking you to maintain that promise. If you cut bilingual education, you cut our children’s future. Please, do not cut bilingual education.”

Rosa has four children – three in elementary school in southwest Detroit and one in high school at Cass Tech. Rosa says her daughter’s grades have declined at Cass Tech and that she wants to work with the school to help her daughter improve, but there are no Spanish-speaking staff or counselors at the school to work with her.

“Everyone knows that children do better and schools do better when parents are involved,” Rosa testified. “But as Spanish-speaking parents, we are often shut out of our children’s education.”

Rashida Tlaib, state representative from southwest Detroit, also testified at the hearing.

“Eliminating bilingual education will dismantle the state’s most successful integration program,” Rashida says. “Being bilingual is a key workforce skill, and ending this program will hurt our economy in the long term.”

Rashida herself is a living example of the effectiveness of the program. As the daughter of an immigrant, she did not speak English when she entered school.

“When I started elementary and kindergarten, they put me in my own program, and as you can see it worked very well,” Tlaib told the House panel.

While in Lansing, the “Our Kids Come First” contingent went to the office of Michael Flanagan, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, hoping to set up a meeting. The group presented a letter urging Superintendent Flanagan to continue commitments made by DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb to the coalition. The commitments include increased bilingual services, community input on the design of new schools, and assigning teachers to their classrooms at least a month before school starts.

In response to the letter, Karen Carefoot, Senior Executive Management Assistant to the State Superintendent, wrote back:

“I have reviewed your letter to Mike and taken a note of the initiatives you mentioned such as designing a new school, increased bilingual access, and revamped teacher assignments.  While Mike is passionate about seeing Detroit succeed, none of these types of initiatives fall under the reign of the Superintendent or the Department of Education, therefore meeting with Superintendent Flanagan would do nothing to further your cause.”

Leaders of “Our Kids Come First” say they will continue to advocate at all levels for reform and resources for the public school system.

“Our Kids Come First” is a coalition of parents, youth, educators, community agencies and organizations, and faith leaders. The coalition is staffed by Southwest Solutions’ Community Partnerships program in collaboration with the Harriet Tubman Center.

“Our Kids Come First” organized a rally called “Coming Together for a Better Detroit” in southwest Detroit on March 22 that drew 900 people and significant pledges from key local policymakers.

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