English-Language Learners

Education Secretary Wants to Change the Way Funding for English Learners Is Managed

Sec. Cardona Wants to Move Title III to OELA. Here’s What That Means
By Ileana Najarro — March 13, 2023 5 min read
English Language Learners 032023 1305725500
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is proposing to move the federal program that supports the nation’s English learners back into the hands of the Education Department’s office of English language acquisition, or OELA.

Federal formula grants for English-language acquisition, known as the Title III program, are currently managed by the office of elementary and secondary education, or OESE, within the department. In his proposed 2024 budget, President Joe Biden is looking to grow that program funding to $1.2 billion, a $305 million increase.

Advocates for English learners have long called for OELA to manage the funds due to the office’s expertise in best practices for these students.

“I know this will strengthen the administration, capacity, and technical assistance of the Title III formula which you and all of our students deserve,” Cardona said of his proposal announced at a National Association for Bilingual Education conference in late February.

Why advocates want OELA to oversee Title III

Title III formula grant funding was shifted to OESE from OELA in 2008 under the rationale that one office should oversee both it and Title I funding, researchers said. English learners also benefit from Title I-funded services.

Within the last 15 years, however, if states and districts had questions over research on best instructional models for English learners, or wanted advice on how to spend federal grant funding to best support these students, they would go to OELA, said Julie Sugarman, a senior policy analyst for PreK-12 Education at the Migration Policy Institute think tank.

Sugarman and others see practical and symbolic benefits to creating a one-stop shop for federal English learner support.

“It isn’t as though bringing Title III over into the rest of the elementary and secondary education section had dramatically excellent effects for Title III itself as a program or our English learners as a student group,” said Conor Williams, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

Williams hopes that centralizing a majority of federal language-related funding in one silo will attract more attention from Congress to increase funding to OELA’s existing competitive national professional development grants, as well as Title III.

While some advocates are happy to see a proposed increase in Biden’s budget, others are saying it’s still not enough for meaningful change, with a $2 billion total being a better starting point for the next fiscal year, according to Sugarman.

“This amount reflects the increased need to support multilingual learners that had a disproportionate level of disruption to their educations during the pandemic and to reflect the years of flat funding that did not keep up with population growth,” Sugarman said.

In the meantime, giving OELA control over Title III formula funding could lead to needed changes faster.

Research has found that bilingual or dual-language programming best meets the academic and linguistic needs of English learners. With OELA managing Title III, Williams said, there could be a greater national awareness of these educational models as well as more funding put toward building them out.

OELA already has staff working with English learners, teachers, and administrators, as well as years of running webinars and professional development grants. But in the past, when they managed Title III formula grants, they lacked the resources to best support states with these funds, said Diane August, an education consultant with consulting firm D. August and Associates and a co-principal investigator at the Center for the Success of English Learners.

Shifting these dollars back to OELA would also require equipping the office to meet this part of the job.

“It makes sense to move [Title III] back, but also to provide OELA with additional resources for this so that they really can provide states with support they need to make sure that the districts are in compliance and the districts have the sort of information they need to do a good job educating,” August said.

Why moving most EL-related grants under one roof can work

Though the shift has wide appeal among English-learner advocates and researchers, questions remain on what such a move implies in terms of who is responsible for English learners.

For decades now, researchers and advocates alike have been pushing to ensure all educators and administrators at the federal, state, and local levels view English learners as everyone’s responsibility, and not as a group siloed off to a separate government agency or a district’s English-as-a-second-language department.

But having the Title I and Title III formula grants under the same agency and even as part of the same accountability plans—a requirement of the Every Student Succeeds Act—didn’t move the needle much for English learners.

“There’s been concern of ‘we’ve distributed leadership for English learners, distributed responsibility, but it sort of gets lost in everybody’s responsibilities’,” Sugarman said.

Take accountability measures as an example.

Under ESSA, language proficiency accountability became a subset of states’ Title I accountability measures. In theory, this meant that the academic and linguistic success of English learners would be just as important as those of all other students. In practice, English-language proficiency only accounts for a tiny part of most schools’ accountability plans—perhaps 5 percent, Williams said.

What’s needed, Sugarman concluded, is a balancing act between spreading the responsibility of English learners across multiple agencies and educators, but also having a centralized place to go to for specialized knowledge and resources.

Moving Title III funding over to OELA, researchers said, can help meet that balance.

“The bringing of these formula grants closer to the OELA office means that the folks who are the most informed on the language acquisition research and linguistic programming research should be the ones who are then in charge of Title III dollars,” Williams said.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 29, 2023 edition of Education Week as Education Secretary Wants to Change the Way Funding for English Learners Is Managed

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

English-Language Learners ‘A Unique Challenge’: What English Learners With Disabilities Need
From language barriers to bilingual education program lockouts, dual-identified students face unique challenges researchers say.
7 min read
Student trying to navigate a landscape of a different language
Nicole Xu for Education Week
English-Language Learners The Complex Factors Affecting English-Learner Graduation Rates
A new study disaggregated New York City graduation rates to find how various factors impact English learners' graduation rates.
3 min read
Teeanage students doing a test in the classroom
Researchers at New York University and the University of Houston recommend educators break down English-learner data by various sociological factors.
E+ / Getty
English-Language Learners English Learners' Proficiency Scores Are Still in Decline, Data Find
The latest data from a national online English-language assessment found the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
5 min read
Elementary students in a computer lab
The national average scores on a popular online assessment show that impact from the COVID-19 pandemic remains among English learners' English-language proficiency.
E+ / Getty
English-Language Learners Explainer Title III Funding for English Learners, Explained
As the nation’s English-learner population continues to grow , researchers look to the Title III for how to best support these students.
7 min read
Second grade students raise their hands in Dalia Gerardo's classroom at West Elementary, in Russellville, Ala., on Dec. 9, 2022.
Second grade students raise their hands in Dalia Gerardo's classroom at West Elementary, in Russellville, Ala., on Dec. 9, 2022. Gerardo's classroom includes several English learners served by Title III federal funding.
Tamika Moore for Education Week