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Biliteracy Would Get Federal Boost in Proposed Legislation

States seeking to grant special recognition to their multilingual high school graduates would get a big boost from the federal government under new legislation introduced by a California congresswoman.

U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, a Democrat, introduced the Biliteracy Education Seal and Teaching (BEST) Act late last month, a measure that would create grants in the U.S. Department of Education to help states that want to establish "seal of biliteracy" programs that support and recognize students who demonstrate proficiency in English and at least one other language.

Brownley sponsored similar legislation in California, the first state to offer a seal of biliteracy to its high school graduates. New York followed suit last year. Illinois lawmakers approved a seal of biliteracy bill late last month—that measure awaits the governor's signature.

The federal grants—which Brownley's bill proposes to be $10 million annually from fiscal 2015 through fiscal 2019—would be used to cover the administrative costs of setting up and carrying out a seal of biliteracy program, as well as for public outreach.

Prospects for this measure moving forward—like almost anything in Congress these days—are slim, especially with an appropriation attached. A tightfisted Congress is not likely to jump on this.

Still, it's noteworthy that the biliteracy issue has reached the national stage, even if only in the form of federal legislation that may not get any traction.

A small advocacy group for English-learners, Californians Together, is the main reason for the spread of the biliteracy seal idea. The nonprofit group conceived of the biliteracy seal in its home state and has been a strong advocate for other states to adopt a special recognition of students who have attained a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing one or more languages in addition to English. The seal is intended for all students, including English-language learners.

In 2012, California issued 10,000 seals to high school graduates.

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