In the 1960s there were no state bilingual programs; many states actually had English-only instruction laws on their books. After the Civil Rights Act and the Bilingual Education Act, states began to take more initiative. In 1971, Massachusetts became the first state to establish a bilingual mandate. Under this mandate, any school that had 20 or more students of the same language background was required to implement some sort of bilingual program.
A decade later, 11 more states had passed bilingual education laws, and an additional 19 offered some sort of legislative efforts in that direction. Today, bilingual or ESL education is offered in some form by every state. Not surprisingly, those states with the highest concentration of immigrants (New York, California, Texas, Florida) tend to have the most comprehensive programs. In fact, according to the most recent data from the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education (NCBE), 18 of the 20 urban school districts with the highest LEP enrollment are in one of these four states. Some states fund all bilingual education programs; others fund only bilingual or only ESL programs.
It should be noted that bilingual needs can differ widely from state to state or district to district. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Spanish-speaking students make up nearly three-quarters of all LEP students in the United States. But in a district in which the predominant foreign language is Chinese, Vietnamese, or Hindi, the needs would of course be geared toward those languages. Local schools can create effective bilingual programs based on their specific needs. At the William Barton Rogers School in Boston, for example, a transitional program for middle-school LEP students who speak Vietnamese has met with success; likewise, a program for elementary school students in the Madawaska School District in Maine has been successful with French-speaking students.
Because each state’s needs are different, and because those needs are subject to change, the best way to get comprehensive and up-to-date information on each state’s initiatives is to contact individual state education departments (see below).