Senators rip English language learning climate

  • Negotiators met for the first time Friday chaired by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (left) and Rep. Alice Peisch (right). [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]

State House News Service
Friday, September 15, 2017

Lawmakers on Friday kicked off a series of closed-door negotiations on legislation to allow Massachusetts schools more flexibility in teaching English language learners.

The House in June and the Senate in July passed different versions of bills that would do away with key components of a 2002 ballot law requiring English-immersion instruction for public school students, including those who are not fluent in the language. Backers of the bills, which are now before a six-member conference committee, have said the law is restrictive and has not helped English language learners progress.

“We all know that the intent of all the work that we have here is to put our students in a position to match their peers, to go ahead with their peers and succeed at the same rate, and what is happening today is not there yet,” Sen. Sal DiDomenico, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said at the committee’s first meeting in a conference room off his office. “And we understand that the last 15 years plus, there’s been a tremendous gap that has not closed in that time, and hopefully this bill will address a lot of these things and put our kids on a path to success going forward.”

Along with DiDomenico, the conference committee includes chairs Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain and Rep. Alice Peisch of Wellesley, Reps. Frank Moran of Lawrence and Kimberly Ferguson of Holden, and Sen. Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth.

The 2002 ballot question passed 68-32 percent. Lincoln Tamayo, who led the ballot campaign said in July that removing the immersion requirement would make it harder for kids to become fluent in the “language of success.”

After five minutes of opening remarks Friday morning, the conference committee unanimously voted to close its talks to the public.

Peisch, who co-chairs the Education Committee with Chang-Diaz, said there are “relatively minor differences” between the House and Senate bills and she hopes the panel can reach a deal in the “not-too-distant future.” Peisch said she echoed the comments of Chang-Diaz.

The bills passed unanimously in the Senate and on a 151-2 vote in the House. Chang-Diaz said the “incredible bipartisan vote in both chambers” was hopefully “a testimony to the ease of the work that we’ll have here.”