CA Senators Ask for $5 Million to Increase Pipeline of Asian Language Teachers

Asian Americans are the fastest growing population in California, yet the state credentialed only 89 teachers who speak one of several Asian languages in the 2019-2020 academic year.

According to the California Department of Education, more than 1000 bilingual accreditations were issued that year. Yet only four teachers were accredited in Vietnamese, and only 58 were accredited to teach in Mandarin.

Two California state Senators, Dr. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Tom Umberg, D-Orange County, spoke at a June 6 media briefing, organized jointly by Ethnic Media Services and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Pan and Umberg asked for $5 million in the California state budget to train and credential a pipeline of teachers who speak Asian languages.

The funds would be allocated to the the California State University Asian Language Bilingual Teacher Education Program Consortium, an alliance among 10 California state universities that have come together to work to increase the number of accredited bilingual teachers in six Asian current languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Hmong, Korean and Vietnamese.

The grant would be allocated over a four-year period.

“There are very few Asian language bilingual teachers who are teaching in dual immersion classrooms, but there’s tremendous demand for that,” said Pan, a pediatrician and educator who chairs the California Asian American and Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.

He noted that the state Legislature has passed a $166.5 million AAPI equity budget to stem the rising tide of anti-Asian hate crimes. But little of that budget was devoted to language access in schools, which Pan believes is critical to stem bullying and xenophobia.

“Research shows that children participating in dual immersion language programs develop a greater understanding and empathy for others with different backgrounds and cultures,” said Pan, noting that Asian students who are English learners also benefit.

More than 66 percent of Asian Americans speak a language other than English at home, noted Pan. The Senator added his personal story: during his elementary school years, the son of immigrants was placed in special needs programs.

“It wasn’t that long ago where you had people talking about, ‘well, if you’re in this country, you just need to learn English.’ That sentiment still exists out there, and has sometimes put barriers to investments in language,” he said.

Umberg noted that the $5 million budget ask was an investment in the state’s future. “It is advantageous for a state like California to have bilingual, even trilingual capacity in the global economy were functioning in.”

“It is obvious, I think, to anyone who has looked at the global economy in the last ten years, that, as we become more integrated, we, the United States, and in particular California, need to be both language capable as well as culturally capable to be able to thrive in the global economy,” said Umberg.

“I know that the language of business, for the most part, is English, but if you really want to do well, then you speak another language,” he stated. “I still practice law, and 50% of our practice is run by Mandarin speaker who is able to communicate in both perfect Mandarin, as well as being culturally acute and sensitive to Mandarin speakers. And that’s been good for business.”

“We want to make sure that our young people are as productive citizens as is possible. The way to make them most productive is to make sure that they are fully functional in at least two languages,” said Umberg.

Asked if $5 million was enough to build a pipeline of Asian language speaking teachers, both Pan and Umberg said it was a start that could be expanded upon in future years.

Dr. Fernando Rodríguez-Valls, professor of secondary education at California State University, Fullerton, noted that funding has been a significant barrier for potential teachers to get accredited. Most classes are offered over the summer when students cannot access financial aid.

Two classes are required for bilingual accreditation, at a cost of $1200 per class; the program costs about $2500, out of the reach for many otherwise-qualified instructors, said Rodriguez-Valls. Candidates must go through the regular credentialing program and then complete a specialization program which allows them to be a certified bilingual teacher.

He noted that by the year 2030, 75 percent of California students will be at least bilingual, and may also be pluralingual.

“I would say that $5 million is a good start. It will really help to support teachers, candidates who want to obtain their bilingual authorization in Asian languages,” said Rodriguez-Valls. “We want to provide high quality instruction for all our language learners in California.”

Victoria ‘Nikki’ Dominguez, Education Equity Director for Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, kicked off the briefing, noting: “The Asian American community continues to face language access challenges. It identifies language access as the number one barrier to access to the services that our community needs, including equitable and fair education for all of our students.”

“This consortium will build the infrastructure needed for us to train, recruit and support aspiring Asian language teachers who are looking to earn the credentials to be able to enter our workforce, our schools, and lead our students in their academics as well,” said Dominguez.