Approximately 25% of California K-12 students are English Language Learners. Despite our best efforts, less than 60% of ELLs are English proficient after 6 years. In addition, their achievement levels are well below their English proficient counterparts. One of Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial goals is to reduce the messy number of categorical funding formulas and thus increase funding for English Language Learners and low income families. He would also like the State Board of Education to adopt instructional materials that provide intensive intervention and support for English Learners and to use existing federal funds to expand after-school and summer school programs to supplement English Learning programs.
Brown’s goals for ELL students are commendable. They are an important first step. Yet more resources are needed to ensure the educational success and the access to post-secondary education for ELLs; and there needs to be a mechanism to help policymakers figure out how to best spend these additional resources. Education finance experts and academics should be included in the discussion and implementation of additional resources. Educating ELLs must not only consider this group's learning needs, but it must also consider the socioeconomic challenges they face. According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), 85% of California’s English Learners are economically disadvantaged (as measured by participation in the free and reduced meals program) compared to 41% of the non-ELL population, reported in 2007 by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). Similarly, PPIC also finds that parents of Spanish speakers, who make up the majority of ELLs, tend to have low education levels and higher rates of poverty. More resources are only the first part of the solution. The allocation of resources must not only consider what goes on inside the classroom for ELLs but it must also consider their access to learning resources after school and at home. Careful attention to how to best spend these resources will not only ensure greater educational access to a large segment of California’s population, but it will also ensure that we get the best return for our educational investment.