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Immigrant rights advocates are pushing City Councilmember Eva Moskowitz, chair of the council’s Education Committee, to schedule a vote on a bill that would mandate translation services in New York City public schools before the legislative session ends.

In a city where more than fifty different languages can be heard in the hallway of a single school, translation services are the only way to ensure equal access to education, say advocates. Parents with limited English proficiency, they explain, are often excluded from participating in their children’s schooling—and that parent involvement is vital to academic success.

While the Department of Education recently committed $7.5 million to improve language access next year, the bill would go even further. In addition to expanding the services already available, it would set out clear guidelines for the ongoing provision of such services, and require the DOE to report on its progress each year.

The bill was sponsored by Councilmember Hiram Monserrate and now has the support of 28 other members, including nine of the eleven-member Education Committee. Moskowitz was not among them. Advocates are now accusing her of stalling its progress.

“We think that they need to make an ongoing and specific commitment to provide these services, not just an election year commitment,” said Andrew Friedman, co-director of Make the Road by Walking, one of the groups that has lobbied for the bill.

Councilmember Moskowitz rejected the suggestion that she’s stalling. “That’s completely untrue,” she said. “In fact, the opposite is true. I fast-tracked the Education Equity Act.” Still, she could not say whether the bill would come to a vote before the end of the session, and hinted that it might need some revision.

“I am for the underlying concept of the bill: that immigrant parents have enormous obstacles,” she said. “I am not confident that adding more bureaucracy at central [DOE headquarters] will solve that problem.”

Noting a recent meeting with immigrant parents, Moskowitz said that most parents were more concerned with facilitating day-to-day communication than having translations of volumes of DOE documents. “What they talked about is that they want the school nurse to know that their child needs a certain medication,” she said.

Citing her current focus on negotiating a five-year capital budget with a 1.8 billion shortfall, she said, “I won’t and I can’t pass a budget where too much money is eaten up by bureaucracy.”

Activists plan to protest outside City Hall on June 9, demanding that the legislation be scheduled for a vote.

—Dan Bell

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