More Funds Needed for English-Learners During Coronavirus Crisis, Advocates Tell Congress

By Corey Mitchell — April 21, 2020 3 min read
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More than 40 organizations have signed on to a letter to congressional leaders, requesting $1 billion in supplemental funding to help districts and states meet the needs of the nearly 5 million English-learners enrolled in the nation’s public K-12 schools as they deal with the coronavirus shutdowns.

The wide-ranging coalition of education and civil rights groups want the aid included in the next federal COVID-19 relief package to cover costs for devices and Internet access for students, provide teacher training for online instruction, bolster efforts to engage and communicate with families, and expand summer and after-school programs to counter the learning loss that will occur during the nationwide school closures, the groups argue in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

“Despite educators’ best efforts during this crisis, it is proving difficult to provide high-quality online instruction for ELs due to lack of electronic devices, connectivity, digital curricula specifically designed for ELs, and teacher training for online instruction,” the letter reads. “Additional resources are needed now to meet the challenges of distance learning for ELs, and to prepare for the increased support EL students will need in the coming school year.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s budget for Title III, which authorizes funds for English-language-acquisition programs, for the current fiscal year is only $787 million. So, the $1 billion request would more than double the amount of money the federal government devotes to educating English-learner and immigrant students.

By comparison, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act approved in March designated $13.5 billion for all public schools. Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog has also warned that schools should not expect another round of relief anytime soon.

Digital Divide

In December, the U.S. Department of Education issued a study that revealed few teachers reported assigning English-learners to use digital learning resources outside of class, largely because they knew many students lacked access to technology at home. The report also found that teachers are more apt to use general digital resources than tools designed specifically for English-learners. English-learner educators also reported having had fewer hours of professional development with digital learning resources than did general education teachers.

Since schools began to close in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus, several states, including North Carolina, have provided resource guides for teaching English-learners during distance learning.

Federal guidance could be forthcoming from the federal Office of English Language Acquisition, the education department division devoted to English-learner and immigrant education.

“Secretary DeVos believes that learning can, and should, continue for all students, even during this challenging time,” education department spokeswoman Angela Morabito wrote in an email to Education Week. “The department is working to provide information to support states, districts, schools and educators related to English-learners.”

Related Reading

English-Learners May Be Left Behind As Remote Learning Becomes ‘New Normal’

The Nation’s English-Learner Population Has Surged: 3 Things to Know

Connecting With English-Learner Families: 5 Ideas to Help Schools

Teaching, Technology, and English-Learners: 5 Things to Know

Photo Credit: Burlington High School freshman Tshering Sherpa sits with 5th grader Emm and 3rd grader Bella as they read a book aloud at the Sustainability Academy on Wednesday afternoon February 19, 2020 in Burlington, Vt. -- Brian Jenkins for Education Week

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