Is federal funding for immigrant students insufficient?

Year after year, more and more immigrant students have enrolled in American schools after arriving from Latin America, Afghanistan, Ukraine and elsewhere, all with needs that go beyond supports. educational.

That’s why researchers and advocates want to improve the federal funding mechanism to support districts with an influx of immigrant children and youth. They seek to better accommodate the continued growth of this particular student population and to better meet the academic and socio-emotional needs of all English learners emerging from the pandemic.

A new report of the Next 100—a startup initiative of the Century Foundation, a progressive public policy think tank—describes how the current federal funding model to support immigrant students, commonly referred to as Title III, limits school districts’ abilities to support the programming of these students and their families matters.

“The American education system is one of the greatest institutions that students encounter when they arrive in this country,” said Alejandra Vázquez Baur, the report’s author. “It is important that the government invests in consistent and adequate programs and supports for these students while they are here.

What is Title III and how does it work for immigrant students?

Title III (formally known as the English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act) was established in the No Child Left Behind Act, enacted in 2002 and reauthorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act, in 2015. Congress appropriated nearly $800 million for Title III in fiscal year 2022.

It was designed to ensure that schools can help English learners – and immigrant children and young people – to master English, develop high levels of academic achievement in English and learn alongside peers who don’t don’t learn English. Its additional funding allows schools and districts to go beyond their basic obligation to provide services to English learners. The funding breakdown works like this:

  • A small percentage of this federal funding (approximately 7.5%) remains with the US Department of Education for research on English language learners and for other purposes.
  • The rest goes to the states in the form of grants. States keep a small amount, about 5%, for state activities, such as training to support districts with English learners. They also set aside up to 15% of the total in a special fund for immigrant student services.
  • States transfer the remainder of the allocated amount to districts for professional development, program evaluations, and other uses to support English learners.
  • From there, if a district experiences a significant increase in immigrant youth enrollment (compared to the average enrollment over the previous 2 fiscal years), then it can apply for funds from the state reserve for immigrant students. .

States define what counts as a significant increase and any other eligibility requirements to tap into this 15% public funding pool. But those requirements appear to limit districts’ abilities to support those students, said Vázquez Baur of the Next 100.

In California, for example, districts must report at least a 2% increase in immigrant student enrollment over recent years to be considered a significant increase.

Suppose a district in California gets a raise of just over 2%. The district would then be eligible for these immigrant student support funds. But over the next fiscal year, the district’s immigrant student population remained relatively stable. The district is then no longer eligible for these funds, potentially jeopardizing the supports that the district had put in place.

“Consistency is key for students, for all students, but especially for highly mobile students, especially students who are new to the country and have suffered some sort of trauma in their past,” Vázquez Baur said.

Immediate help for these students and their families is essential, she said. But she worries about the ability of districts to maintain programming when faced with strict eligibility criteria for funding that varies from state to state. According to Vázquez Baur’s research, it takes much more than one school year to fully support immigrant students and their families.
In the report, she outlines a new approach to rethinking immigrant student funding: replacing it with a formula system where funding is based on the number of immigrant students in each district. It’s similar to how districts get funding to support English learners as a whole, many of whom were born in the United States.

Along with this formula model, Vázquez Baur proposes establishing a separate emergency fund that is distributed at the discretion of the U.S. Secretary of Education to deal with sudden influxes and to help districts adapt to community changes. while maintaining services for students already in the district.

What are the problems with this model and possible solutions?

This idea has its own critics.

“I think the intent is to use Title III immigrant money to start or improve programs, because there’s always an added cost associated with that, but the continuation of the program would then have to come from local funds” said Julie Sugarman, a senior policy analyst for K-12 education for the Migration Policy Institute think tank, which offers research and analysis on immigration policy.

The current Title III funding model was put in place to explicitly assist districts that have suddenly seen an influx of immigrant students in need of additional support beyond academic and language needs such as cultural and psychological needs. . It’s an important priority that shouldn’t be lost, Sugarman said.

She is most concerned about the data used to track significant increases in immigrant student enrollment – ​​the US Census’ American Community Survey.

Census data is always lagging, Sugarman said. If a bus arrives this month with 25 students who must now be enrolled and need additional support, those students will not be considered for funding for about two or three years.

Sugarman and Vázquez Baur also said what English Learner advocates have noted for years: there just isn’t enough money in Title III.
Total Title III credits remained relatively unchanged, despite the growth of the English-learning population by more than one million during the same period, according to Vázquez Baur’s report. About $1 billion has been requested for the 2023 fiscal year, according to the Department of Education.

And the pandemic has highlighted the need for exactly the type of programs Title III can cover to support English learners as a whole, such as coordinating with other services and involving parents, Sugarman said.

At a time when there are growing headlines about migrant families being bused or flown across state lines and schools accepting more Afghan and Ukrainian refugee studentsVázquez Baur hopes that lasting improvements to federal funding for these students can be made.

“Title I and Title III, among others, have really helped shift the focus of mainstream education toward equity for specific groups of students who have been relegated to the fringes by our K- 12,” Vazquez Baur said. . “Title III has the potential to be truly transformative for English language learners and immigrant students. And what we’re finding is in the current model, it’s not there yet.

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