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Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

What’s Mike Got Against Ed Equity?

Thousands of immigrant parents of public schools students in the city cannot get effectively involved in their children’s education.

Often the parents’ knowledge of English, their new language, is not enough to understand the report cards, school notices, attendance slips and graduation requirements their children bring home.

The Education Equity Act (or Intro 464), passed by the City Council on Dec. 21, 2005, would change that situation. It would require public schools to provide translation services to parents allowing them to become active not only in their kids’ education but also in the schools their children attend.

With 43% of public school students coming from homes in which English is not the primary language, there is little doubt about how important Intro 464 can be for the City of New York.

Yet Mayor Bloomberg, even though he supports the bill’s intent, has not signed it into law – and has threatened to veto it.

The mayor has said he believes that under state law, only the Education Department or Albany has the authority to legislate education issues.

But Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Queens), who is co-chairman of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian caucus, and introduced the Education Equity Act, disagrees.

“The bill is about our children’s future, not bureaucracy,” he said. “The bottom line is that we need to ensure that our children – all our children – are receiving the best education possible.”

Intro 464 would certainly go a long way in that direction.

If it becomes law, all public schools would have to provide translation into the city’s eight most common languages after English – Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Bengali, Haitian Creole, Korean, Urdu and Arabic – for immigrant parents who are still learning their new language.

More than one in three New Yorkers is foreign-born, the 2000 census found.

“I’m taking classes, but I don’t want to wait until my English is perfect to be involved in my daughter’s education,” said Brooklyn resident Irania Sánchez, a member of Make the Road by Walking.

Sánchez’s words reflect the feelings of the majority of immigrant parents in New York City. According to the results of the 2005 New Americans exit poll, those parents identified public school education as their single most important issue.

Which is why a group of parents and students joined Monserrate, Councilman David Yassky (D-Bklyn) and civil rights advocates Thursday on the steps of City Hall to ask the mayor to sign the bill ASAP.

“Translation services for parents of public school students are essential in New York. How can parents be involved in their child’s education when they can’t understand what the teacher is sending home?” said Yassky, another bill sponsor.

Chung-Wha Ho, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, another group that also participated in the demonstration, does not see any downside to Intro 464 becoming law.

“Signing the Education Equity Act is a no-brainer for Mayor Bloomberg,” she said. “This law would allow hundreds of thousands of English-learning school parents to be involved in their children’s education and would ultimately lead to higher scores and graduation rates for our more at-risk students.”

What is Mayor Bloomberg waiting for?