In 1993-94, Hispanic children made up 33 percent of some 12,000 children in Chicago’s state prekindergarten classrooms, yet only 9 percent of the teaching staff was certified in bilingual education or teaching English as a second language (ESL), according to the Latino Institute.

The Institute has been pushing for legislation that would require the Board of Education to ensure that all preschool classes with at least 50 percent non-English-speaking students have a teacher with either bilingual or ESL certification. The bill has passed the Illinois House but not the Senate.

“It’s not about maintaining the Spanish language. It’s about providing a transition to learning English,” says Sylvia Puente of the Institute.

Chicago’s state prekindergarten program currently has 35 teachers with bilingual certificates, and another 31 teachers without bilingual certification who teach non-English-speaking students, says Alice Moss, state prekindergarten manager. Under House Bill 668, those 31 teachers would be required to obtain bilingual certification by the year 2000.

The board has tried to pick up the slack by placing bilingual teacher aides in classrooms with monolingual teachers and by encouraging those aides to seek early childhood teaching certificates. It also has encouraged early childhood teachers with a bilingual background to seek bilingual certification.

The board could not provide data on the number of certified bilingual teachers it needs to eliminate the shortage.

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