February 25, 2019

Cortez Masto, Cornyn Introduce Legislation Supporting Teachers of English Learners

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced the Reaching English Learners Act to tackle the shortage of teachers certified to teach English learners (ELs) in the United States. The bill creates a competitive grant program for institutions of higher education to partner with high-need school districts to provide support and incentives for schools and colleges to create and develop programs that improve training for future EL educators.

“Our education system must provide the support and resources our students in Nevada, and across our nation, need to be successful,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “Since ten percent of students in the United States are English learners, we must ensure they do not fall behind academically because of a language gap. This bill equips teachers with an understanding of the unique challenges facing students whose first language is not English. I’m committed to making sure every student in Nevada has the academic support to learn and grow.”

“Teachers trained to support English language learners are an invaluable and in-demand resource for Texas’ students, and we must encourage those working in this important field,” said Senator Cornyn. “This legislation would help prepare educators with the specialized training they need to ensure these students stay on track with their peers.”

U.S. Representatives Jim Langevin (D-RI), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), and Will Hurd (R-TX) introduced a House companion version of the bill to help English learners (ELs) succeed in school.

“Nearly 1 in 10 Rhode Island public school students is an English learner, yet there is a shortage of teachers specifically trained to educate this growing population,” said Congressman Langevin, who authored the House version of the bill. “As the number of English learners continues to increase across the nation, this bill will provide crucial resources to ensure the teachers of tomorrow are equipped with the necessary skills to help them succeed academically. English learners have enormous potential, and I am excited to work with leaders like Senators Cortez Masto and Cornyn and Congressmen Espaillat and Hurd to ensure these students can thrive.”


Five million students in U.S. public schools—or one in ten students—are English learners (EL). English learners are a rapidly growing and increasingly diverse population. ELs speak more than 150 languages from around the world, with Spanish spoken by over 70 percent of students.

The Reaching English Learners Act would create a grant program for colleges and universities under Title II Part B of the Higher Education Act to support the development of teacher preparation programs that train future teachers to instruct ELs. To secure a grant, higher education institutions would be required to partner with local education agencies to build or strengthen teaching programs that provide qualified teacher candidates with skills related to:  

  • Helping ELs in prekindergarten, elementary, and secondary school programs: (1) achieve at high academic levels and meet state standards adopted under Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); and (2) attain English proficiency
  • Recognizing and addressing the unique and diverse social and emotional needs of ELs; 
  • Appropriately identifying and instructing ELs with disabilities; and
  • Promoting parental, family, and community engagement in EL educational programs.

Under the ESSA, an English learner (EL) is defined as a student between the ages of three and 21 whose difficulty speaking, reading, writing, or understanding English creates barriers to academic success.

The Reaching English Learners Act has been endorsed by the Hispanic Associations of Colleges and Universities (HACU), the Joint Committee for Languages (JCL), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS), TESOL International Association, UnidosUS, and the Association of Language Companies.