Will ELLs Benefit From Federal Stimulus Funds?

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 04, 2009 1 min read
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At a session at the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association, Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust urged reporters to ask the following question about states’ and school districts’ plans for using federal stimulus funds: “Is it good for kids and why—and beyond that, which kids is it good for?”

What’s more, she said, reporters ought to be asking how the stimulus funds will benefit low-income students, students of color, and English-language learners.

So during the Q&A time, I asked members of the panel—who included Michael Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools and Scott Palmer of the EducationCounsel, as well as Wilkins—what evidence they’d seen that education for ELLs would be improved with stimulus funds.

Not much, they answered.

Wilkins said she hasn’t been hearing “enough” about ELLs and stimulus funds and added, “I wish the stimulus package had been clear about how you could use Title I stimulus funds for ELLs.” Title I is the section of the No Child Left Behind Act that authorizes money for disadvantaged students.

Casserly said that a document written by researchers with recommendations on how stimulus funds can and should be used for ELLs has been circulating among the urban districts that are members of his organization. But “unless there is explicit encouragement,” many school districts may not direct funds toward programs for ELLs, he said.

Palmer called the lack of emphasis on ELLs in the stimulus package “a big gap.” What’s more, he said, the needs of ELLs “could be lost” in the debate over how to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, otherwise known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

At the same time, I have seen news stories that mention plans by two school districts to use stimulus funds for ELLs. Officials at Oregon’s Salem-Keizer district are considering using the money for hiring English-language-acquisition specialists, who would work with teachers in schools with large numbers of ELLs. Similarly, Pennsylvania’s York City district is expecting to hire 26 teacher aides with Title I stimulus funds and is considering assigning some of those aides to ELLs.

But two school districts seem like a rather measly amount. Readers, let me know if you know of other examples.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.