September 05, 2018

Cortez Masto Introduces Reaching English Language Learners Act

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) today introduced the Reaching English Language Learners Act to address the shortage of teachers qualified to teach English language learners (ELs) in the United States. The bill would create a grant program, under Title II of the Higher Education Act, to provide support and incentivize colleges and schools to create teacher-training programs to address the shortage and better prepare the future generation of EL educators. Senator Cortez Masto crafted the Reaching English Language Learners Act after hearing directly from a Washoe County School District teacher about the challenges facing educators who work with ELs.

“Ten percent of public school students in the United States are English learners. That means ten percent of public school students face a language gap that puts them at risk of falling behind academically,” said Cortez Masto. “I’ve introduced this bill to address the critical English language teacher shortage and help make sure that English learners have the resources they need to learn on equal footing with their peers.”

“Washoe County School District supports legislation that aims to further enhance the preparation of teachers in supporting our students learning English,” said Washoe County School Superintendent Traci Davis. “We look forward to continued partnerships with our colleges and universities as we work to improve outcomes for students and build upon the work the district is already doing around social emotional learning, parental and family engagement and supporting our students with disabilities.” 

Joining Senator Cortez Masto in introducing the bill were Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). 


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 ESSA; and (2) attain English proficiency
  • Recognizing and addressing the social and emotional needs of ELs; 
  • Appropriately identifying and instructing ELs with disabilities; and
  • Promoting parental, family, and community engagement in EL educational programs.

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.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, 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.

Teaching ELs requires a specific skillset and unique teaching strategies, but the Department of Education reports that 32 states have a shortage of teachers for EL students. As a result, thousands of schools across the country are unable to meet the needs of the growing population of ELs. 

Grant recipients would be required to offer work-based learning opportunities and provide the necessary coursework for teacher candidates to qualify for an EL teaching certification. They would also need to submit a report on the effectiveness of the EL teaching program to the Department of Education. 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), and the TESOL International Association. Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI) introduced its companion bill in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support.