Metro Nashville Public Schools hopes to spend $4.7 million on adding numerous new positions next year to meet the needs of students who have a native language other than English.
In the district’s proposed budget for the 2017-2018 school year, MNPS plans to add 31 English Learner (EL) teachers to address state-mandated student-teacher ratios, according to a factsheet on the district’s website. The district also wants to add seven teacher professional development positions and 19 interpreters and translators. In addition, the proposal calls for adding six new tutors for afterschool tutoring and expanding summer school programming.
“Continued growth in the district’s EL population brings the need to further expand the scope and depth of EL services,” the factsheet reads, noting that MNPS gains more than 1,000 new EL students each year. Those students include immigrants and refugees born in other countries as well as those born in the U.S. but who are exposed primarily to another language at home before starting school. Languages spoken include Spanish, Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi, Burmese, Nepali, Somali, Swahili and Vietnamese, among others.
While activists support the expansion of EL programs in public schools, critics view the related expenditures as burdening taxpayers with soaring, unchecked immigration growth. MNPS is often at the center of the debate in Tennessee because it has the largest number of EL students in the state. During the 2015-2016 school year, the district had nearly 15,000 EL students, making up 17.6 percent of the district’s student population, according to the Tennessee Department of Education. Statewide, there was a total of nearly 50,000 EL students, making up 5 percent of the state’s student population.
Overall, the operating budget for MNPS for next school year would total $903 million, the budget proposal shows. That’s an increase of nearly $60 million more than the budget for the current school year. In addition to increasing spending on EL programs, the budget includes other new hires, increases in salaries and benefits and funds to support advanced academies, the district’s literacy focus and elementary school libraries, and efforts to redesign curriculum to meet state standards.
Director of Schools Shawn Joseph presented a draft of the budget proposal to the school board during a special session on Tuesday. The school board’s budget and finance committee will be reviewing the proposal over the next several weeks and the full board is set to consider the request at its April 11 meeting.