Federal support of programs for English-language learners depends on a formula based on the number of ELL students in each state and district, but a long-awaited national study suggests officials need a more comprehensive way to identify students who need help.
The report, developed by the Washington-based National Research Council for the U.S. Department of Education, calls for federal policymakers to change the funding formula for ELL grants to incorporate state-level counts of students with limited English proficiency in addition to the U.S. Census Bureau data now used to identify them.
Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides grants to states and districts to support programs to help English-learners gain proficiency in the language, as well as to help immigrant students transition into American schools. While the $750 million program is small compared with some other federal grant programs, it has grown with skyrocketing increases in numbers of students identified as English-learners.
Under program rules, the Education Department can use either census or state data to identify the number of ELLs in each state and gauge its share of federal grant money. Yet research shows that the two methods yield dramatically different results. In 2004-05, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found, for example, that the census estimate of ELLs for California was almost 50 percent lower than the state estimate.
The NRC panel reviewed both methods and recommended that the primary Title III grant formula be changed so that 75 percent of a states share is based on census estimates of ELLs, while 25 percent is based on the states own reports of students with limited English proficiency. A second Title III grant, intended to support programs for new immigrant students, should be based solely on census figures, according to the report.
A version of this article appeared in the January 19, 2011 edition of Education Week as Report Urges Changes in ELL Funding Formula