SALT LAKE CITY -- Top lawmakers decided against sending funds to a program that allows elementary students to receive instruction in English and another language. The Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee, which is made up of leaders from both parties, opted to not fund the $800,000 needed for the state's dual immersion program in the proposed final budget. The move would end the program in several public schools in Utah County.
"A thousand first-grade students will be denied a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in Utah's dual immersion program and lose the great opportunity of a bilingual education," Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, chairman of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a released statement. "It saddens me that one of the priorities of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee was not prioritized by the Executive Appropriations Committee. Dual immersion needs a minimum of $800,000 or it is going to face cancellations."
The dual immersion program allows elementary students to receive school instruction for half a day in English and the other half of the day in one of five languages.
In Utah County alone, the legislative decision could spell the end of Chinese immersion classes at Alpine Elementary, Riverview Elementary and Renaissance Academy, as well as Spanish immersion at American Leadership Academy, Portuguese at Rocky Mountain Elementary and German at Lakeview Elementary.
"This would really be a blow to students and parents of Alpine School District," district spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley said.
Beyond the existing Chinese and Spanish programs, the district has signed up 118 first-graders for two new Chinese programs to start this fall, and 35 students for a Portuguese class that also was planned for this fall.
"We have had quite a few parents who called today upset because they have heard about this, and they have called their legislators," she said.
"We are telling people to contact their legislators," she said. "We are hoping the plea to the Legislature from the many, many people who have already expressed concern will mean the Legislature is able to find funding."
Lawmakers can change their mind on the budget decision but will need to do so quickly as the session will come to an end on Thursday night.
There is a chance the existing programs might be continued even if the Legislature does not change its mind, though.
"We would look at it and of course we could go ahead and decide to continue with these new programs, but that money will have to be cut from somewhere," Bromley said, noting it would force some "tough decisions."
For now, the district is hoping that won't happen.
Calls for comment to the American Leadership Academy, Renaissance Academy and Provo School District were not returned.