Scrimping on teaching languages is incomprehensible
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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(Linda Steindorf of Roswell is president of the Georgia Coalition for Language Learning.)

Gov. Sonny Perdue makes costly trips abroad to court businesses. Georgia officials routinely spend millions on incentives for companies they're recruiting. When Georgia courted DaimlerChrysler, officials presented a $320 million package deal on state taxpayers' dime. In fact, DaimlerChrysler was promised $1 million for the teaching of German in Savannah's public schools.

Yet a much-loved, top-rated, nationally admired, statewide elementary school foreign language program was singled out of a $20.2 billion budget for the veto pen. This $1.5 million competitive grant program, 14 years old, got the ax even as Perdue's political ally, President Bush, has encouraged our nation to undertake language learning.

In our post-9/11 world, our nation's security is critically reliant on language skills and desperately short of fluency. Hundreds of thousands of hours of intercepted communications await translation.

On the other hand, consider our health. The recent global threat of bird flu originated in Asia; do we have the language skills to address that challenge?

Georgia participates in billions of dollars of international trade, yet can't commit to substantive language learning. An estimated $10 million bid was made for the headquarters of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, but Perdue won't spend $1.5 million on real language learning.

Georgia's standardized test scores rest at the bottom nationwide, yet the consistently associated benefits of increased test scores from second-language learning are considered irrelevant.

Perdue will instead spend around $1,200 per elementary school for foreign language media materials. Please Governor Perdue, read "The World Is Flat" by Thomas Friedman.

Consider the Chinese who starved under communism and despised the West. They're now the world's fastest-growing economy and teach little children English. It's not about goodwill; it's about money and investing in China's future. It worked out well for India and other countries. U.S. banks and technology firms have followed the language skills to low costs.

When will Perdue stop being shortsighted and make the investment in creating an educated workforce with our greatest natural resource: our children?