The Groton school system has at least 40 Spanish-speaking students for whom it does not receive state bilingual education funding. In Fairfield, 50 different languages are represented in the public schools but yet, when it comes to allocating the state’s English Language Learner funding to this district, most of these students do not count.
What keeps these districts receiving state aid based on all their ELLs is a state bilingual education law which bases funding on the requirement that there be at least 20 students who speak the same foreign language in the same school.
As a result, although the state currently distributes about $1.9 million a year for bilingual education, nearly 11,000 or 1/3 of the more than 31,000 students identified as ELLs in 2013-2014 in Connecticut do not qualify for the state dollars, explains Orlando J. Rodriguez, an associate commission analyst for the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.
Werner Oyanadel, LPRAC’s executive director, said the 20-student threshold is preventing thousands of ELLs in Connecticut schools “from obtaining the appropriate instruction they need to succeed.”
By 2030, the working-age population is forecast to be over 20 percent Latino, which means to a large extent “the state’s economy is inextricably linked to the future economic success of Connecticut’s Latino residents,” according to LPRAC which is working with other organizations to bring the the need to the forefront in hopes that it will become a bigger state priority.
Improving bilingual education is seen as vital to avoid what has been a disproportionate dropout rate for ELLs and to transition these students to English-language programs that will enable them to pursue well-paid careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and other professions.
Another concern is the aging of the state’s workforce and general population. The state currently has the seventh highest median age — Florida is fifth, Rodriguez noted.
“Consequently, it is vital to the state’s economic future to ensure that all children in Connecticut get an excellent education so they can have well-paying jobs that will provide an adequate tax base” that will support the rising cost of retiree benefits, Rodriguez added.
One way that LPRAC is pursuing change is by working with other stakeholders such as the Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission and the Connecticut School Funding Project, a nonprofit entity launched this year to address what it perceives as inequities in how the state allocates school funds
These organizations recently distributed an infographic entitled “19 is Not Enough” that is the third in an ongoing effort that LPRAC is spearheading to bring attention to the need for greater equity and resources to bilingual education in Connecticut.
The latest infographic, beyond highlighting local schools excluded from state ELL aid, underscores the diversity of the problem. The excluded students are not just Latinos who make up the vast majority of the ELLs, but also Asian and Eastern European student populations as well as French-Creole speakers from Haiti,” said Rodriguez who was instrumental in creating this fast-facts presentation.
This situation is typified by Watertown where 19 students at one school speak Albanian, Vernon where 30 students throughout the system speak Urdu, and the town of Berlin where at least 19 students speak Polish. These schools also do not qualify for the state aid.
Previous infographics emphasized that the state spent more per student for Mastery Tests, $64, in 2012-13 than it did on bilingual education, $61 per student based on Department of Education figures, and that the gap between ELLs and non-ELLs on some math and reading tests were worse in Connecticut than states such as California, Massachusetts, New York, Texas and Arkansas.
The state is not alone in short-changing ELLs. The federal government provides $150-180 a year per student, even those not meeting the state threshold, to teach English to foreign-language students, kindergarten to grade 12, “which is insufficient,” according to LPRAC.
Another factor that clouds the bilingual education picture is that Connecticut public schools are not required to report their spending on “higher need students,” according to Katie Roy, director of the Connecticut School Finance Project. “As a result,” she said, “it is impossible to determine total spending on ELL students across the state.”
While this ELL funding issue still needs to be fully addressed by the state legislature, in the wake of LPRAC’s lobbying efforts, which includes data and first-person presentations, there has been some ELL changes and improvements during the recent state budget session that ended in July.
• Legislation that increased maximum duration for bilingual education from 30 to 60 months.
• A key measure will allow ELLs to take the state-mandated Mastery Tests in their native language. Next year, Rodriguez explained, the exam will be given in the five most prevalent foreign languages.
•An increase in the supply of bilingual education teachers
•The accountability of school districts for educating ELLs.
Meanwhile, for LPRAC and APAAC, Rodriquez said, the ongoing goal “is to see that every student is taught English.”