STORM LAKE, Iowa — Iowa school districts are struggling to meet the need for more English language teachers amid growing demand from students and stagnant state funding.
Enrollment in English Language Learner programs, or ELL, has grown to more than 27,200 students in 2016, The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/2pOJsvO ) reported. In Storm Lake, for example, 41 percent of students are still learning English.
State funding for ELL programs and services has nearly doubled over the last 10 years, from $25.9 million in 2006 to $55.4 million in 2016. Still, Iowa educators say school districts need more state funding to cover additional years of ELL classes for students who have difficulty picking up English.
Part of the increase in funding can be attributed to the Legislature’s decision in 2013 to expand supplemental financial support for ELL students, expanding funding from four to five years for each student. But recent efforts to continue increasing state funding haven’t gained traction, including legislation introduced this session that would’ve boosted per-student state funding from five to seven years.
“It’s important for some children to have a longer time in the program,” said Tammy Wawro, president of the state teacher’s union. “For some children who have never seen print (writing), they need more time, up to seven years.”
A state task force that studied ELL programs in 2013 also recommended boosting the supplemental support for students who districts receive, increasing state funding from 22 percent to 39 percent. But the measure hasn’t passed.
“It’s very discouraging and extremely shortsighted,” said state Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, who is also the ranking member on the Iowa House Education Committee. “You can’t (educate ELL students) on a shoestring.”
About 92 percent of Iowa residents speak English. According to 2015 estimates from the state data center, 4 percent speak Spanish and 4 percent speak other languages.
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com