New staff, additional training for teachers and money going directly to schools.
These are some of the things some districts in Colorado have planned with new state funds to better serve students learning English.
But other districts that have also received these funds and serve tens of thousands of English learners have no plans to add new services at all.
The state does not monitor how districts deploy the funds or require them to use the money for the intended purpose.
When Colorado lawmakers decided last year to give districts more money to better serve English learners, the idea was that those students needed additional services to allow them to access the same level of learning. education than their peers. Lawmakers recognized that poor internet access and language barriers had made it harder for some students to participate in remote learning, and they wanted districts to have resources to help those particular students.
According to state figures, the state provided about an additional $16.8 million to English language learners. Despite good intentions, advocates say the funds aren’t enough for districts to properly serve English learners, and some worry the state has created ways to ensure schools and districts use the language. money for the services students need.
“It’s a good step to do more, but what does it look like when they get it?” asked Cynthia Trinidad-Sheahan, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “How are you going to educate the districts, support them and then hold them accountable? This is the room the state forgets to think about.
Of a dozen districts that responded to Chalkbeat’s questions about their use of the additional funds, only five described changes to their services.
Most districts said that because they have always spent more money on English learner services than the state has provided, the extra money just helps cover what the district has spent. in the past. In most cases, the increased funding still does not cover services for English learners, officials said. Among these districts are the school districts of Denver and Jeffco, the largest in the state. Both said they did not add services with the new funding.
The Denver District, which serves the most English learners but does not have the highest proportion, received more than $9 million this year specifically for the roughly 30% of its students who identify as English learners, up from around 5.9 million in previous years. years, according to state figures. But district officials said they allocate about $30 million each year to services for English learners.
“The money the district allocates from our general fund to support our multilingual learners far exceeds the allocation of funds received from the state, even taking into account the additional funding provided during the current school year. “officials said in a written statement.
Trinidad-Sheahan said part of the problem is that student-serving department budgets have remained stagnant for years, even despite districts experiencing demographic shifts, which may mean different needs, or despite all the new funds available.
“A lot of those budgets haven’t increased; they stayed the same for years,” she said. “When that money comes in, it’s never counted as additional funds.”
Districts that have used this year’s increased state funding to increase the services they provide are also spending more on English language learners than the state provides them for those services. Yet they decided to use public funds to increase these services.
The Eagle School District, which has about 30 percent of its students identified as English learners, received almost double what it previously received in public funds for those students. Yet its $864,000 from the state covers less than 29% of its more than $3 million in annual spending on English learners.
This school year, the district added staff to expand the district’s bilingual middle school program and also funded new training for program leaders. Eagle Schools has been developing its bilingual programming since 2012-2013 and is offering it this year in five of eight elementary schools and four of its middle schools.
“Districts, ours and others, do the right thing when we see the need,” said Melisa Rewold-Thuon, assistant district superintendent. “There is of course never enough.”
The bilingual program is for students who are learning English as a second language, as well as students who come from English-speaking homes and want to become bilingual.
“By giving both populations the opportunity to learn the language and learn the culture, we believe it brings our students closer together,” Rewold-Thuon said.
Although not necessarily covered by the new funds, the district has also hired bilingual teachers from abroad because it cannot find enough qualified staff for its bilingual programs. Previously, the district hired about five foreign teachers each year, but this year it is sponsoring 30.
Eagle Secondary Schools added English Language Development teachers. Last year or so, a new wave of teenage immigrant students, including unaccompanied minors, arrived with gaps in their education, in part due to the disruption of the pandemic.
One day, Eagle officials want to develop a program for new immigrant students, but for now, without such a program, Eagle’s English language development teachers take on the role of social workers to guide new immigrant students adapt and find resources to navigate their new community.
“Our district is very, very dedicated to meeting the needs of all of our students,” Rewold-Thuon said. “Some students, when we look at equity, just need extra support to even be able to reach that basic level of education. That’s why this funding is so important to us.
Anita Pizzo, a high school English language development teacher in Aurora, said that in the past two weeks her school has welcomed 15 new students who are new to the country. They come from Congo, Afghanistan, Latin America and elsewhere.
Increasingly, as Eagle educators are also seeing, many of these new Aurora students are arriving without having been to a high school, due to pandemic disruptions to schooling. Pizzo said these students have often learned to rely on Google Translate and must now learn to stop using it, in favor of learning English.
All teachers need more training to be able to re-engage these students, Pizzo said.
Like many districts do, Aurora gives each school a budget based on the number of students they have. Currently, Aurora’s formula for its schools does not take into account whether students are learning English, although it takes into account other risk factors. Next school year, each school will receive an additional $195 per English learner, and principals will be free to use that money as they see fit.
For some schools, the increased English Learner Allowance won’t mean much, but for other schools it might be enough to hire an extra member of staff, for example.
Aurora, one of the districts with the highest proportions of English learners, went from the state’s $3.6 million to $6.3 million. Chief Financial Officer Brett Johnson said the district already spends more than $6.1 million each year on teacher leaders like Pizzo for all schools. So far, new state funds have helped offset what the district was already paying.
Next school year, the district will allocate $1.2 million for schools to spend as they wish.
Some teachers and advocates say they would like more transparency about how their schools and districts spend state money and other funds meant to support English learners.
Pizzo says she has other support ideas that students need, such as a curriculum or paraprofessionals to support students when they are in their English-only classes. Other teachers also say they would like to see more training, tutoring or more specialists who can help teachers tailor their lessons to the students learning English in their classrooms.
Trinidad-Sheahan said one idea for holding districts accountable would be to ask them how the funds they spend directly support students at each level of English proficiency. She said newer students, such as newcomers or those testing at the lowest levels of English proficiency, need support the most.
But sometimes, she said, she’s seen districts prioritize spending on programs or materials that will support a larger number of students, such as the curriculum for a literacy class that may have a few learners. more advanced English speakers on their path to bilingualism. – although newcomer students can’t even enroll in this class until they have a better command of English.
“Can districts really prove that they benefit every level of language learners? It would be hard for them to prove,” Trinidad-Sheahan said. “These funds should add up. Kids should have more.