Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday signed a law to strengthen bilingual education in Illinois and, among other things, it will foster the creation of so-called "parents academies" and cultural programs for immigrants.

"School is challenging enough for students and parents alike without having to struggle with a new language," said Quinn at an event held at the Inter-American Magnet School in Chicago.

The law, which was sponsored by Latino state lawmakers Linda Chapa LaVia and Iris Martinez, "will keep Illinois on the cutting edge of bilingual education programs to ensure that every student is ready for the workforce," the governor added.

Figures compiled by the Illinois State Board of Education show that in 2010 there were 183,000 students in this state who did not speak English as their first language, almost 10 percent of the student body.

Eighty percent of the students enrolled in bilingual programs were of Latino origin, while the rest were made up of youngsters who spoke Polish, Urdu, Arabic, Tagalog, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Gujarati, Vietnamese and Russian.

Although the majority lived in Chicago, in the nearby cities of Elgin, Cicero, Aurora and Waukegan there was also a growing population of students who did not speak English as a first language.

The law enacted Thursday sets forth that the Illinois Advisory Council on Bilingual Education, created in 1992, will recommend the creation of "parent academies" where immigrants will learn about the educational system in the state and strategies to help their children with their homework.

In addition, the academies will offer workshops that cover topics ranging from school safety to helping out in the home and nutrition.

"Parents of non-English speaking students want - and need - to feel a greater stake in navigating their child's education," state Rep. Chapa LaVia said at the ceremony. "This new law opens the door to such innovations as 'parent academies' to accomplish that."

The bill, which was supported by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was approved unanimously by both houses of the state legislature and will enter into force on Jan. 1, 2013. EFE