The Importance of Equitable and Adequate School Funding for English Learners
I have been involved in the topic of school funding with an emphasis on English learners since my doctoral dissertation. I was fortunate to be trained by Dr. Ruben Espinosa, who was the first Chicano school finance expert in California. I am one of the few researchers who has focused on English learner funding, which remains an understudied yet important topic. I’m grateful that more people and organizations are deciding to explore multilingual education. New America recently brought together a small group of experts from across the country to discuss English learner funding, in which I was one of the experts to give a brief overview. From that convening, New America published a brief on funding for English learners. Here are a few highlights:
- The English learner population in K-2 schools has grown from 3 million in 2000 to over 5 million in 2020 across the United States, so the urgency to address multilingual education and the resources needed will only continue to grow.
- The possible solutions requires policymakers to re-envision how they fund English learners. Previous methods used to cost out an “adequate” education have proven to not be as useful, particularly for multilingual earners. Researchers need to be more accurate in the outcomes desired to calculate the inputs required to achieve those outcomes. For example, is the target outcome bilingualism and biculturalism or simply to have English learners reclassified?
- English learner funding also requires a more serious investment at the federal, state, and local levels. The education of English learners has woefully been underinvested. For instance, a few states like Mississippi actually do not provide any additional funding.
I also urge advocates who care about this issue to think about a few additional things:
- The US educational system needs to move beyond a remedial distributive justice to a transformational paradigm with that promotes an asset-based distributive justice approach that builds on student assets instead of their deficiencies.
- Policymakers need to improve the whole identification, classification and reclassification processes that impact not only funding but the educational trajectory of multilingual learners.
- School leaders need to engage parents of English Learners more intentionally to help inform decision-making. “Language barriers” are often used as a crutch to avoid doing more parent engagement. Remember that 80% of English learners speak Spanish as their home language — so it is important to begin with this language.
In addition to the New America brief, for the first time, Ed Trust conducted an analysis of funding inequities between districts with high and low percentages of English learners and found that across the U.S., the districts with the most English learners receive $2,200 less state and local revenue per student, compared with districts with the fewest English learners. The corresponding online data tool includes state-by-state findings. But identifying these kinds of inequities is only the beginning. There’s so much more work to do to ensure that school systems have the resources needed to provide asset based, culturally relevant educational experiences for multilingual learners.
In conclusion, I commend New America for highlighting English learner funding and look forward to working with them and others to figure out more equitable and adequate ways to fund multilingual learners.