Legislature Passed 4 Bills from TX Early Childhood English Learner Initiative’s Policy Roadmap

Although the Texas Early Childhood English Learner Initiative began just last year, it managed to have a big impact on this year’s legislative session.


To ensure more Texas children are successful both inside and outside the classroom, Texans Care for Children, along with a variety of partners and stakeholders, launched the Initiative in early 2020. Our goals were to ensure more emergent bilingual (or English Learner) students become strong readers by third grade, become fluent and literate in both English and their home language, and are learning in settings where educators, principals, child care directors, and parents have the tools they need to support them during this pivotal period of childhood.

From January through October 2020, we developed a series of recommendations through a statewide survey of 185 Texas experts in bilingual and early childhood education, three virtual workgroup convenings with community leaders from around the state, and numerous conversations with school district administrators, child care directors, educators, and other experts. Through this process, we created a policy roadmap, and ultimately, a focused legislative agenda.

We’re happy to report that after a legislative session of long nights and fierce advocacy, the Initiative passed four terrific bills supporting emergent bilingual students to address challenges that Texans identified during our research, including:

  • HB 2256 by Rep. Guerra/Sen. Creighton will establish a teaching certification in Bilingual Special Education. This step will build a pipeline of school leaders equipped to effectively serve the educational needs of emergent bilingual children with disabilities and developmental delays in pre-k through 12th grade. It will ensure diagnoses are more accurate and occur early enough to start services when they are most effective. These certified Bilingual Special Education teachers will provide services that can meet the student’s language needs and address the student’s disabilities and delays.
  • SB 560 by Sen. Lucio/Rep. Guerra will establish a State Strategic Plan for Bilingual Education. This plan will include tangible goals and timelines to increase the number of educators certified in bilingual education, increase the number of one-way and two-way dual language programs, educate families and school districts on the importance of bilingual education, adopt a uniform process for identifying emergent bilingual students in pre-k through 12th grade, and increase the number of bilingual and multilingual high school graduates.
  • SB 2066 by Sen. Menendez/Rep. Dutton updates the Education Code to change the term “limited English proficient” to “emergent bilingual,” a term better reflecting students’ bilingual potential and strengths.
  • SB 2081 by Sen. Menendez/Rep. Talarico sets a new pre-k class size cap of 22 students. Manageable pre-k class sizes will help students of all linguistic backgrounds be ready for Kindergarten and strong readers by third grade, but the bill will be particularly valuable to young emergent bilingual children who can become biliterate with more individualized support.

We are grateful to these Legislators and their hardworking staff for championing these bills and ensuring they made it across the finish line during a difficult session.

If you would like to learn more about which children’s bills passed and didn’t pass, including other bills to support emergent bilingual students, I encourage you to read the blog and preliminary recap report that Texans Care for Children published on the last day of the legislative session. The Governor has until June 20th to sign bills and allow them to become law.

These significant wins would not have been possible without the support from Philanthropy Advocates members, the Rainwater Foundation, and the Alliance for Early Success. These legislative accomplishments are also the product of the amazing Early Childhood English Learner Initiative Steering Committee, consisting of Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), the Texas Association for the Education of Young Children (TAEYC), and Dr. Dina Castro from UNT Denton, who helped us craft and develop these recommendations. We want to particularly recognize all the work that the IDRA team put in at the Capitol, testifying on these bills, working with legislators, and helping to rally support.

We were also bolstered by persistent support from groups like Leadership ISD, Every Texan, Ed Trust, and others. However, it wasn’t just capitol insiders who advanced these bills through the session. We also owe a tremendous thanks to the many families who made numerous calls and sent emails to legislators, ensuring these important bills got the support they needed to move forward. 

The work cannot stop here. Only about one in five Texas emergent bilingual children are being educated in Dual Language Immersion classrooms, despite it being the most effective model for guiding students to learn English and become bilingual. Texas still has a significant and longstanding shortage, going back to the 1990s, in certified bilingual educators. Many schools still fail to effectively serve emergent bilingual children, who continue to experience lower third grade reading scores, graduation rates, and college readiness.

With billions of federal COVID relief dollars for Texas education unspent and a lot of work ahead to ensure these bills are implemented effectively and efficiently, we will call upon our partners to bring their tenacity and advocacy forward again this interim. Through a growing and diverse coalition, the Initiative will continue to be guided by the steps outlined in our policy roadmap and work to help emergent bilingual children succeed in school and reach their full potential.