Bilingual Education:

Four Overlapping Programs Could Be Consolidated

GAO-01-657: Published: May 14, 2001. Publicly Released: May 14, 2001.

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Marlene S. Shaul
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In fiscal year 2000, the federal government funded four bilingual education programs--Program Development and Implementation Grants, Program Enhancement Projects, Comprehensive School Grants, and Systemwide Improvement Grants--that award grants to school districts to serve children with limited English proficiency. This report reviews (1) how similar the performance goals and measures, eligibility criteria, and allowable services are among the four bilingual education programs; (2) to what extent the different kinds of grants were made to the same types of schools or school districts and were used to provide the same services; (3) what is known about these programs' effectiveness; and (4) whether these programs can be better coordinated or if opportunities exist for program coordination and cost savings. GAO found that all four federal bilingual education programs share the same performance goals and measures, use similar eligibility criteria, and allow for similar uses of program funds. In fiscal year 2000, the four bilingual programs made grants to school districts that shared some characteristics and provided similar services; however, individual schools typically did not receive funding from more than one program. The services provided with program funds are similar, but are tailored by school districts and schools to meet local needs. Currently, the effectiveness of the four bilingual programs on a national level is not known. The authorizing legislation requires the use of local evaluations to assess students' progress in meeting state standards. The variation in local assessment tests complicates the task of providing a national picture of program effectiveness. Even if the Department of Education were able to obtain uniform information on local projects, it faces challenges in trying to isolate the funding effects of the four bilingual programs from funding effects of other programs that support students with limited English proficiency. Finally, these four bilingual programs lend themselves to consolidation. Although cost savings from consolidation would likely be small, there may be advantages to consolidation, such as freeing up staff for other important activities and reducing the administrative burden associated with redundant federal programs.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress consolidated overlapping bilingual education programs into one program in the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965, the No Child Left Behind Act.

    Matter: To decrease the overlap caused by four bilingual education programs that were designed to achieve the same overall objectives, Congress may want to consider program consolidation. Congress could achieve a single federal program that consolidates all four bilingual education programs into one but provides Education with the flexibility to meet the varied needs of school districts serving students with limited English proficiency. Such a program would focus on grantees with experience educating students with limited English proficiency as well as those grantees with little experience in this area.


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