Langevin Introduces SPELL Act to Address the Shortage of Teachers of English Learners in Rhode Island

Sep 18, 2019 Issues: Education

WASHINGTON – Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) today introduced the Supporting Providers of English Language Learning (SPELL) Act. The legislation aims to address the English learner (EL) teacher shortage by making highly-qualified EL teachers eligible for up to $17,500 in student loan forgiveness. Congressmen Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) joined Langevin on the bill as original cosponsors.

“In Rhode Island, we have a rapidly growing English learning student population, but we lack qualified teachers needed to educate these students,” said Congressman Langevin, who also introduced the Reaching English Learners Act earlier this year. “Unfortunately, Rhode Island’s English learner teacher shortage is not unique, as many other states are struggling to reach this important population. It is imperative that we address this challenge so that every child has access to a high-quality education. By expanding student loan forgiveness for teachers of English learners, we can recruit and retain more skilled educators to ensure English learners don’t fall further behind their peers.”

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that only 65 percent of EL students graduate high school in four years, compared to the national four-year graduation rate of 83 percent. The academic achievement gap between ELs and non-ELs will only worsen if the EL teacher shortage is not addressed. ELs represent almost ten percent of students in Rhode Island and approximately a quarter of students in Providence, and the Department of Education reports that Rhode Island is one of 32 states that have a shortage of teachers appropriately qualified to educate ELs.

"Like many school systems across the country, Rhode Island’s public schools are facing one of the fastest-growing populations--English Language Learners (ELLs).  Currently, there aren’t enough teachers certified to teach these students,” said Nancy Cloud, a member of the Rhode Island Teachers of English Language Learners (RITELL) Coordinating Council. “Even for those willing to do so, becoming a certified ELL teacher takes time and money – two things that are difficult to come by as a full-time working teacher. This bill would definitely help address the teacher shortages experienced by school districts in Rhode Island and across the country by providing loan forgiveness to individuals who enroll in programs to become certified to teach English Learners.  For this reason, we are proud to support the SPELL Act and would welcome its passage.”

“There is a critical shortage of EL teachers in Rhode Island and across the country,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “Making EL teachers eligible for student loan forgiveness through this Act is a smart and timely strategy to help address this issue.”

“The Rhode Island Foreign Language Association sees the value in and advocates for multilingual opportunities for our students,” said Amy Hubertus, President of the Rhode Island Foreign Language Association (RIFLA). “Providing financial support for bilingual/dual language teachers will help our nation address this critical need area and give students the opportunity to become valued, engaged, multilingual citizens.”

Currently, if a highly-qualified teacher has been employed for five consecutive years in a high-need school, they are eligible for up to $5,000 of student loan forgiveness. Historically, math, science, and special education teachers have been in high demand, so, to achieve higher recruitment and retention rates, teachers who go into these subjects are eligible for an increased benefit of $17,500 of student loan forgiveness. To combat the growing EL teacher shortage, the SPELL Act adds EL teachers to this high demand category, making them eligible for additional debt relief.

Text of the Supporting Providers of English Language Learning (SPELL) Act.

The SPELL Act is supported by: Joint National Council for Languages-National Council for Languages and International Studies, TESOL International Association, Association of Latino Administrators & Superintendents, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, International Association for Language Learning Technology, National Network for Early Language Learning, Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, Southern Conference on Language Teaching, American Association of Teachers of French, American Council for International Education, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, Avant Assessment, Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium, Arizona Language Association, California Association for Bilingual Education, Connecticut Council of Language Teachers, Dual Language Educators of New Mexico, Hawaii Association of Language Teachers, Massachusetts Foreign Language Association, Michigan World Language Association, New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers, Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association, Rhode Island Teachers of English Language Learners, Rhode Island Foreign Language Association,  Utah Foreign Language Association, West Virginia Foreign Language Teachers Association, Wisconsin Association for Language Teachers