Last week, I had the great fortune to attend the JNCL-NCLIS Language Advocacy Day in Washington,
D.C. There were over 160 representatives from 42 states around the nation, all coming together under
the theme of “Speak Up for Languages.” The Language Advocacy Day is an opportunity for these
educators, business owners, administrators, and government employees to learn about current issues
and policies regarding language education in Congress, to develop effective advocacy skills, and to meet
with congresspeople and staffers in the Congressional office buildings, allowing them to raise their
voices as constituents in a way that many advocates are not afforded.
There were 3 key bills that were the focus of the day: WLARA (the World Language Advancement and
Readiness Act), the Esther Martinez Native Languages Preservation Act, and the BEST (Biliteracy Education Seal and Testing) Act. WLARA is a comprehensive bill that focuses on establishing high-
quality programs throughout K-12 schools in order to combat a rising deficit of quality linguists, both for government purposes, such as defense and diplomacy, and in the private industry. The act would
prioritize teacher professional development, expansion of summer programs, and reinforcement and
rebudgeting of programs such as STARTALK. Esther Martinez would reduce the number of students
from 10 to 5 in a native language school (note: the use of the word native is included in the bill, whereas
this website frequently utilizes the phrase “indigenous”), while also guaranteeing an additional 2 years of
funding for native language schools, from 2022 to 2024. Many of these schools are critical to the survival
of these languages, and the bill has received unanimous support in the past. The BEST Act would
continue to look at creating a national Seal of Biliteracy program; 35 states already have their own Seal,
but this would ensure access and standardization across the country.
The day after meeting with their congresspeople, states reported to the group as a whole, with many
successes, some coming as a great surprise. For example, the group meeting with a staff member of
Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) office reported that the staff would wholeheartedly support making Senator
Booker, a future presidential candidate, a co-sponsor of WLARA. The Maryland delegation (the one I
attended) found out after meeting with the staff of Congressman Raska’s (D-MD) office that he has
officially decided to become a co-sponsor of WLARA. Other delegations shared many success stories,
ranging from finding former students were now working for congressional staff, meeting with staffers who spoke several different languages, to the Mississippi delegation being pleasantly surprised that they
were able to cross the aisle and convince their congressperson of the value of language education with
little issue; even in a state that is falling behind in education as a whole, Congress is beginning to see
how invaluable languages will be for the nation’s future, whether it be for defense, business or
government service. Other groups were able to attend special interest sessions, such as with the
Department of Education or the National Endowment for the Humanities, to express their concerns about national language policy.
After sharing our success stories, the afternoon was filled with panel discussions, roundtables, and more,
ranging from the Seal of Biliteracy to where language education is headed in the future. A major theme
was that advocacy could not just happen in one day; continuing efforts to touch base with Congress and
staff, and creating positive relationships would be vital to the success of securing a bright language
future. Other events throughout the two days included a keynote speech from Dr. Ann Friedman, the
founder of Planet Word, a language arts museum hoping to open next year, and awards presented to
Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), Marty Abbott (Executive Director of ACTFL) and Linda Markely, a language
advocate, for their contributions to language policy in 2018.
The Language Advocacy Day continues to be a key day in ensuring the success of language programs across the country. During talks to the whole group, Dr. Bill Rivers (the executive director) and Trey
Calvin (Managing Policy Analyst) indicated their pleasure with the continued growth of both JNCL and the Language Advocacy Day, and expressed hope for a successful conference next year.