According to Bennet, there were 4.7 million English learners in U.S. schools as of the 2007-2008 school year, which is about 10 percent of all students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Just over three-quarters of elementary school English learners are U.S. citizens, and more than half of English learners in public schools are second or third-generation citizens.
In Colorado specifically, Bennet said there are more than 117,000 English learners, and said 163 languages are spoken in Colorado's public schools. "Spanish is the top language spoken by English learners in Colorado, with 86.7 percent," he said. "The second most common language spoken is Vietnamese, which is followed by Arabic, Chinese and Russian."
Bennet's bill is not the only bill introduced this year related to English proficiency. In March, House and Senate Republicans introduced legislation that would declare English as the the official U.S. language, and require the Department of Homeland Security to develop testing guidelines for people applying for U.S. citizenship.
But the Republican bill does not address how to handle non-English speakers who are citizens, and also specifies that nothing in the bill applies to the teaching of languages.