The cost to teach English to non-English speaking students in Tennessee public schools has increased over 100 percent since FY 2016.
In FY 2016, the total cost for English Language Learner (ELL) services was $94,110,440. Seventy percent was funded through the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) in the amount of $65,877,308, matched by a “required” local share of approximately 30 percent, totaling $28,233,132.
In FY 2018, funding for ELL services for the upcoming school year will cost state and local taxpayers $198,150,357.
The state will fund $138,705,250, a 110 percent increase from FY 2016. The required local match will increase 111 percent from FY 2016 at a cost of $59,705,107.
“There are 2,872 EL teaching positions and 287 translator positions that will be funded for this [FY 2018] school year, which are funded at a ratio of 1 teacher per 20 EL students and 1 translator per 200 EL students,” according to information forwarded to The Tennessee Star by the state’s Department of Education Deputy Director of Communications.
In FY 2016 the BEP funded 1,570 teaching positions and 153 translator positions, highlighting the sharp increase just two years later.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, mandates providing ELL services to ensure that “equal education opportunity to language-minority students” is not denied by schools receiving federal funds.
This fiscal year the federal government has contributed a mere 3 percent in Title III funds that can be used to provide ELL services in Tennessee’s schools, resulting in an unfunded federal mandate for the state.
In September 2016, Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), backed by the Metro Council, sued the state wanting more money for ELL services, alleging that the state did not meet the BEP funding formula. The suit also alleged that state funding was inadequate to pay for the proper ratio of students to teachers and translators.
Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman Sara Gast noted that in 2016, the state had provided $220 million in new funding, including $14 million in new funds for English language learners and that the “increased ELL funding benefits MNPS more than any other school district in the state.”
State aggregated data for the 2016-17 school year of the 85,453 students enrolled in MNPS, 18.9 percent, or 16,150, were categorized as ELL students. By contrast statewide, there were a total of approximately 53,000 ELL students, making up 5.3 percent of the state’s student population.
For the 2017-2018 school year MNPS proposed to expand its ELL services by adding more ELL teachers and translators along with more positions for afterschool tutoring and summer school programming. The school district justified the program expansion because of “continued growth in the district’s EL population” noting that MNPS gains more than 1,000 new EL students each year.
ELL classified students include legal immigrants like refugees and illegal aliens born in other countries as well as children born in the U.S. but who come from non-English speaking homes where the primary language spoken is one other than English.
According to 2012 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition, of the 57 percent of adolescent U.S. born ELLs, 37 percent were second-generation and 32 percent were third-generation. A 2016 report in Education Week puts 80 percent of the public school ELL population as U.S. born.
The MNPS ELL program offers more than just language instruction – “[o]ur English Learner (EL) programs are designed to promote cross-cultural education, facilitate emotional growth, and protect the cultural identity of our students.” Under the umbrella of its ELL programming, the school district extends its services to supporting ELL families by providing a range of services including legal assistance, translators, community nights, adult English classes and Notary Public services.
A fact sheet posted by the TN Educational Equity Coalition (TEEC) which has an interlocking relationship with Randy Boyd’s education non-profit Complete Tennessee provides its own figures on ELL students in Tennessee schools:
- 56,528 ELLs are enrolled in Tennessee public schools
- 65 percent of ELLs in the K-12 grades were born in the U.S.
- the largest enrollment of ELLs are in Davidson, Shelby, Knox, Rutherford, Hamilton and Hamblen counties
TEEC’s English Learner initiative is working to organize in different parts of the state to expand advocacy for more resources including more funding for English Language Learner services (ELL) in schools.
Not only is the ELL student population increasing in Tennessee, but as MNPS admits, “[i]t can take anywhere from 5 to 10 years for EL students to become completely fluent in English,” partially explaining the unending increase in state and local costs for the services.
Because ELL services are mostly funded through the state’s Basic Education Program and comes primarily from state and local revenue it means that every Tennessee taxpayer shares in the cost regardless of which county’s schools are providing the services.