House committee to consider DACA eligibility, school bilingual options

Updated: Mar. 10, 2021 at 11:31 PM CST
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Arkansas United is pushing for two bills that will be heard Thursday at the Arkansas state House Education Committee.

One bill, HB1594, is trying to build off the momentum of getting DACA recipients a nursing license, and allow DACA students to get their teacher’s licenses.

The other bill, HB1451, would allow a public school district to adopt an approved bilingual or dual immersion program.

If passed, HB1451 would not force public schools to include those programs, but it would present a decision for each public school district in the area to consider.

“We just want to be part of the change we want to see in Arkansas,” Mireya Reith, Founding Executive Director of Arkansas United said. “We want to be part of the solution in these tough times.”

Reith wants to see a change in the state, especially with bilingual education.

“We actually can’t give bilingual education in Arkansas,” Reith said.

HB1451 states the bilingual program would “build a student’s primary language skills” while offering classes with half native English speakers and half native speakers of another language.

“School districts do not have to offer bilingual education,” Reith said. “But they have that option to have these programs now if HB 1451 moves forward.”

Reith says the state has seen considerable growth in multiple people groups.

“We have the largest Marshallese [population] outside the Marshall Islands,” Reith said. “We also have a really robust Vietnamese community in several parts of the state.”

No matter the group, Reith said it’s all about developing skills beyond school.

“What we’re losing is all the kids before high school who have tremendous opportunities,” Reith said. “Many of them coming from multilingual homes, to be able to utilize those skills and grow those skills from a young age.”

Tying into HB 1451 is HB1594, which would give DACA recipients a path to gaining a teaching license.

Reith says teacher shortages among minority groups have been an issue in the state for decades. Some DACA recipients in Arkansas are in classrooms, but only as aides despite having a degree. This would help them get a license.

“Arkansas is trying to be a leader in the global economy, and yet we are not giving our kids the skills they need to be competitive in that global economy,” Reith said. “That is affecting Arkansas’ ability to be competitive.”

She says, as a result, minority students are getting lost in the shuffle, something Reith hopes both bills would help to fix.

“When every student is achieving their potential, all of Arkansas benefits,” Reith said. “When our workforce and every individual in the workforce is achieving their potential, everyone benefits, and that’s what we’re fighting for [Thursday].”

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