Howie Berman is executive director for ACTFL, with 18 years of experience working with nonprofit membership organizations. He serves on the executive committees of the Trust for Insuring Educators (TIE) and the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL).
The US proposed budget and language skills
The need for multilingual individuals is growing at a rapid pace in our workforce, in the public sector and, most importantly, in our classrooms — be they virtual or in-person. We are living in a more interconnected and interdependent world — a world where knowing a second (or even third) language is critical to being successful in a 21st-century global economy.
According to a 2019 survey by ACTFL, nearly one in four US employers acknowledged losing or being unable to pursue a business opportunity over a singular lack of language skills.
Statistics like these indicate an alarming trend. As the world language skills gap in the US economy continues to grow, the number of qualified teachers continues to fall. The language education profession is facing incredible challenges when it comes to teacher recruitment and retention. As of 2018, 44 states and Washington, D.C. currently report shortages of qualified language teachers.
“In today’s global workforce, it is essential that all students have equitable access to language education in the classroom. A critical step in helping to make this vision a reality is to ensure that the US expands and sustains its pipeline of well-trained language educators,” says Bill Rivers, executive director of the Joint National Committee for Languages.
The state of language education in the United States and the clear need for employees capable of speaking languages other than English would dictate that more funding — and funding that specifically addresses teacher recruitment and retention — is needed immediately to resolve the issue.
Yet the Trump administration’s budget request for the 2021 fiscal year would not only fail to provide adequate funding for language education initiatives, it would eliminate federal funding for several major programs designed to strengthen and promote them, including:
Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): ESSA was signed into law by President Obama in 2015 and is critical to ensuring our students and teachers have the resources and support to succeed. Title II provides grants to state and local educational agencies. The purpose of these grants is to increase achievement, improve the effectiveness of educators and expand access to effective educators, especially to low-income and minority students.
Title IV, Part A of ESSA: another key section of ESSA, Part A of Title IV provides grants to state educational agencies to fund educational programs such as world language education, arts education and college and career counseling, among others. Well-rounded curricula, as funded by Title IV, encourage engaged and collaborative students who in turn perform well in school and life.
Title II of the Higher Education Act (HEA): HEA designates funding to support the Teacher Quality Partnership grant program for colleges of education. These grants improve teacher education programs, strengthen educator recruitment and provide training for prospective teachers. This funding is especially crucial as the US faces a shortage of qualified educators.
Title VI/Fulbright-Hays: Administered by the International and Foreign Language Education office, Title VI and Fulbright-Hays fund grant and fellowship programs that strengthen language instruction, area/international studies teaching and research, professional development and curriculum development at the K-12, postsecondary and graduate levels. If eliminated, traditionally underserved and undereducated students will end up further behind their peers.
These cuts will only make it easier for those considering language teaching to choose another career path, further weakening an already fractured teaching pipeline. Employers will find it increasingly more difficult to fill critical positions tomorrow if we are unable to recruit those educators tasked with teaching students these language skills today. Anyone who values a robust global economy and our ability to compete in it as a nation should strongly oppose these cuts to the federal budget.
The trends and statistics are undeniable — languages matter. They have cultural, economic, strategic and other implications for our nation. To deny this would be irresponsible. The cuts proposed by President Trump would leave our students and businesses unable to compete with their international counterparts and would leave us less safe as a nation. Instead of turning our backs on those who advance language education, we should be doing everything we can to support them.