Sarah Roy, New American Economy, firstname.lastname@example.org
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND – Today, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed into law the Maryland Seal of Biliteracy Act, establishing a program to recognize high school graduates who have attained proficiency in at least one language in addition to English.
The Seal of Biliteracy has been hailed as an important initiative to promote foreign language learning and greater cultural understanding for students. The legislation was supported by a broad bipartisan coalition of elected officials, business organizations and advocates, including New American Economy, CASA de Maryland, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, and the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. Maryland joins more than fifteen other states to adopt this initiative.
“With today’s signing, Maryland joins states like California, New Jersey and Florida in recognizing bilingual proficiency as a competitive advantage as its students prepare to compete in a global economy,” said New American Economy Chairmain John Feinblatt. “We commend Governor Larry Hogan for signing the Seal of Biliteracy bill, and thank Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch for passing this important legislation.”
Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez (D, Chevy Chase), who sponsored the legislation in the House, applauded the news, saying, “I am delighted Maryland will be part of an important national movement to better prepare all our students, native English-speakers as well as speakers of other world languages, for success in the global economy. After three years advocating for passage of this legislation, I am proud that Maryland now joins over 15 other states that have established the Seal of Biliteracy to recognize the extraordinary achievement of our high school students.”
Proponents of the bill, including an overwhelming number of Maryland educators, argue the Seal incentivizes students to learn new languages by providing a tangible stamp of recognition, helping to correct America’s tendency to undervalue language learning and lack of language proficiency acknowledgment in our schools. Numerous studies show learning a second language can enhance a student’s cognitive development, equip them with greater cultural understanding, and help them develop the skills necessary to become active global citizens. Chambers of Commerce in Montgomery and Howard Counties expressed strong support for the Seal of Biliteracy as a means to prepare our students for an increasingly globalized job market and also as a criterion to help employers discern which candidates possess those language skills.
“Cultural competency and proficiency in a foreign language are skills that are sought by employers,” wrote Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President Georgette Godwin in a letter of support to the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this session. “Creating a Seal that is recognized in the marketplace will further incentivize proficiency in a foreign language.”
Foreign-born populations will be able to take advantage of the Seal and formally market their skills to employers.
“This new law is a big step forward in attracting immigrants to Maryland by rewarding the language skills they bring with them,” said Senator Jim Rosapepe (D, Prince George’s County), Senate sponsor of the bill. “In our globalized economy, these language skills help raise our standard of living.” Senator Rosapepe, born in Rome, Italy, was the Senate sponsor of the state’s heritage language law in 2008, which made Maryland the first state in the U.S. to preserve and enhance the foreign language skills of immigrants and their children.
CASA de Maryland, a community-based organization that works to advance opportunities for Latino and immigrant populations, also played an active role in supporting the bill.
“This bill says that we as a state value the hard work of foreign-born students who are able to reach proficiency in English on top of their mother tongue,” said Gustavo Torres, Executive Director at CASA. “But more than that, it provides greater avenues for these individuals to showcase their skills and augments their chances of securing meaningful jobs.”
The Maryland State Department of Education will determine criteria and requirements for the Seal and work with local school systems to support its implementation. While the bill is passed as a statewide initiative, local school systems are free to choose whether or not they will participate in the program.
The bill will take effect starting July 1, 2016, with Seals being awarded with the graduating class of 2017.