Education Secretary William J. Bennett yesterday sent Congress his proposed legislation to give school districts more flexibility in spending federal dollars to teach children who speak languages other than English.

The Bennett proposal, which he first outlined in a speech last September, would remove the 4 percent ceiling on the amount of federal bilingual aid that can be used for alternative teaching methods such as intensive English classes or immersion courses.

The proposed legislation is the second stage of Bennett's effort to revamp federal bilingual education aid. Late last year he issued proposed changes in regulations that would give school districts more flexibility in deciding how much time should be spent instructing foreign students in their native tongues.

"Schools must be allowed to decide what method is best for their students," he said in a statement. "English proficiency is crucial to every aspect of living in America."

His proposal already has met with strong criticism from the powerful bilingual education lobby, which includes Hispanic organizations and Hispanic members of Congress. Bennett's proposal has also been greeted skeptically by members of Congress who believe the 4 percent ceiling was a fair compromise to those who wanted alternative methods taught, and who fear that tinkering with it might reopen the volatile bilingual debate in an election year.