Alexander Calls for Study of English Language Proficiency in the United States

Posted on January 24, 2008

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today formally requested a detailed study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) of English language proficiency in the United States. “During the last six years, the number of people speaking a foreign language at home increased by 8 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau,” Alexander said. “So it is time for the nation to learn how to unite our magnificent diversity by helping non-native U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents become more proficient in English.” Alexander noted that the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), on which he serves, is considering legislation to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act and the Workforce Investment Act. He said both laws would benefit from a thorough examination of the English language needs which currently exist. Specifically Alexander requested that the study include: • the estimated costs to the public and private sector of United States residents not having such proficiency. • the estimated costs of operating English language acquisition programs in the public and private sectors for those residents of the United States who lack English language proficiency, as well as existing programs. • recommendations regarding the most cost-effective actions the federal government could take to assist U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents in quickly learning English. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Alexander wrote that the study would also help him determine appropriate funding levels for relevant English proficiency programs. Alexander, a former U.S. Secretary of Education, is a longtime advocate of policies to encourage immigrant assimilation and to help prospective citizens learn English. He has introduced the Strengthening American Citizenship Act, which is designed to help prospective citizens learn English and learn more about the American way of life. He also cosponsored an amendment making English the national language of the United States. Last month, Alexander introduced legislation to “make clear that it is not against federal law for an employer to require employees to speak English on the job.” The “Protecting English in the Workplace Act” would clarify that it’s not against the law to prohibit foreign languages from being spoken while engaged in work. The legislation would not apply to a worker’s lunch hour or other designated breaks. ###