All of Washington’s elementary school students will have the option of participating in dual language immersion programs by 2040, if Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal has his way.
Reykdal announced a new proposal Wednesday to rapidly expand dual language offerings over the next decade and reshape what language education looks like from elementary through high school. Dual language programs offer students instruction in English and a partner language to build bilingualism as they learn other subjects.
Reykdal said it’s a critical opportunity for the state’s businesses and the economy, as well as for student learning.
“When students are in early language programs, the way their brain is being mapped, their ability to make connections to other subjects … it all gets enhanced through the power of language,” Reykdal said.
His plan would require an investment of $18.9 million from the Legislature from 2023 through 2025 in order to expand dual language programs to another 49 districts starting in the 2026-2027 school year. An additional 34 districts would be added in 2029, with the goal of achieving full statewide implementation by 2040.
As of last school year, 110 schools across 42 districts have dual language programs, serving more than 35,000 students. Most are offered in Spanish, but nearly a dozen are offered in Native American tribal languages, Mandarin Chinese or Vietnamese.
“The opportunity for families is big right now,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is get those districts to build it out to all of their elementary schools and then add additional districts that haven’t yet started.”
In order to expand, Reykdal said his office is seeking funding to provide more development grants for districts, and to develop the bilingual teacher workforce — including through $5,000 stipends for teachers who have a bilingual endorsement and $1,500 for bilingual certified paraeducators working in dual language programs.
Some funding from the legislature would also go toward ensuring high schools can provide opportunities for their students to earn a “Seal of Biliteracy.” Reykdal said 3,500 students earned one last year in 83 different languages.
With the proposed expansion, Reykdal said high schools would need to rethink what courses would look like for students with years of experience with a particular language, but said options for those who don’t participate in dual language would remain.
“You’re talking about quite a transformation in high school for those who are ready and still having these programs available in high school for that student who says ‘I’ve never done this,'” he said.
Reykdal’s dual language pitch is the latest of several announcements his office plans to make through November, following a proposal on timber revenue and credit opportunities for working students shared earlier this summer.
The story has been corrected after OSPI erroneously said in a press release that it would seek an $189 million investment from the legislature to expand dual language programs. The amount is $18.9 million.