More English Learners Straining New York Schools’ Budget
More English Learners Straining New York Schools’ Budget
Bernadine Racoma

New York is traditionally one of the most multilingual states in the U.S. as most immigrants aspire to land, live and work in this state, which for them is the realization of their American Dream. With the number of immigrants settling in New York in recent years, it is no longer a wonder that the number of school children with no or very little English language ability is also on the rise.

Language barrier still a big issue

Top education officials in the state are already alarmed at the strain the language barrier is bringing into the public school system. Urban and rural school enrollment of children speaking various foreign languages continue to grow. Children of immigrants now studying in schools in New York speak about 200 languages. This is a very diverse group, which includes indigenous dialects in Central America that only have spoken components.

Increase in enrollment

Educators say that since 2008, students with limited English has grown by about 39,000. It is bigger than the total enrollment in Buffalo, which is the second-largest school district in the state of New York. Mark Laurrie, the superintendent of Niagara Falls said that there are more incoming students, since Buffalo’s refugee programs are expanding in Niagara Falls because affordable housing is available in the city. The superintendent is now facing another problem, as he also has to provide facilities for more than three dozen students from Syria, Somalia, the Congo and Burma.

Laurrie also says that he will need additional translators and teachers. He said that he is not going to make the language barrier be a divisive factor in the city’s schools. He added that they would educate them, as long as these students and individuals are vetted.

Impact on the budget

The state of New York has 733 school districts. The number of currently enrolled school children with limited English is 245,000, which puts financial pressure on the state’s school districts. The state has to comply with the regulations to help students reach academic success.

New York State Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia, says that support is limited. The Board of Regents overseeing public schools are now finishing its annual request for funding, which will be presented to lawmakers. They are going to present requests from the multilingual student body for additional funding during the budget talks in January.

The New York State United Teachers, a union that is now supported by the State School Boards Association says that the schools will need an additional $200 million to cover the issues on language.

Elia is hoping that there will be a separate funding to support the needs of students coping with language barriers. She said that the situation affects not only the teachers focused on teaching English language skills but all teachers.

Issue across the state

It is not only New York City that is being burdened by the increasing number of students with low English proficiency. Many other cities are getting affected right now. The number of children of legal and undocumented immigrants, as wells those who came to New York through the refugee resettlement programs was not revealed but it is very noticeable that there has been a remarkable increase, and it seems it is not going to abate any time soon.

In Buffalo alone, schools that received refugees speak about 85 languages. Officials say that the financial cost of teaching all of the children who speak a foreign language is tantamount to teaching students with special needs. It is getting more difficult to maintain current services and curriculum without additional funding. Even rural communities are not spared, with several of them having an increase in immigrants from Central America.

It is evident that there is a need for more teachers with the right certification. The schools need more instructional resources and professional development. Smaller schools right now can only manage to assign one teacher to help students improve their English language proficiency. The state needs to provide funds to train more teachers to help students improve their skills in English. Districts cannot provide all the funds needed for training teachers, as there is a tax cap limit on funds they can raise locally.

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