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MPI Report Offers First-Time Estimates of Numbers and Costs to Provide English Instruction to Legal and Unauthorized Immigrant Adults
Press Release
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

MPI Report Offers First-Time Estimates of Numbers and Costs to Provide English Instruction to Legal and Unauthorized Immigrant Adults

$200 Million Per Year Additional for Lawful Permanent Residents and $2.9 Billion for Unauthorized

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In order to get to a level of proficiency necessary for civic integration or to begin post-secondary education, approximately 5.8 million adult lawful permanent residents (LPRs) currently in the United States will need about 277 million hours of English language instruction a year for six years.

If only half of adult LPRs were to participate in classroom English instruction and 10 percent of instruction could be done outside the classroom, the additional cost of meeting LPRs’ English instruction needs would be about $200 million a year, for six years, over and above the approximately $1 billion currently spent annually by the federal government and states. 

In order to remain in the United States under the terms of the failed Senate immigration bill or to fully participate in U.S. civic life, approximately 6.4 million unauthorized immigrants will need about 319 million hours of English instruction a year for six years. In the event of a broad legalization program for today’s unauthorized population, total projected English instruction costs would increase $2.9 billion a year for six years.

Developing the capacity to provide up to 660 hours of English instruction to immigrants would bring the United States in line with the amount of language instruction provided to immigrants in a number of other developed countries. For example, Australia provides up to 510 hours of English instruction to immigrants and Germany offers immigrants 600 45-minute German language courses.

These are the findings of a new report by Margie McHugh, Julia Gelatt and Michael Fix released by MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “Adult English Language Instruction in the United States: Determining Need and Investing Wisely” uses census-based estimates of the number, educational attainment and English skills of immigrants currently in the United States. The authors index immigrants’ needs to existing student performance levels, and provide direction on how to strategically expand instructional services to meet these needs. Estimates are provided for the United States and for individual states.

The report includes a series of funding recommendations for meeting existing English instruction needs, which exceed the scale and abilities of the current system. The authors note that investing in the human capital of immigrants leads to increased tax revenues, lower social welfare payments, and improved educational and workforce outcomes among immigrants and their children. The authors offer recommendations for maximizing this investment by setting benchmarks for success and deepening accountability.

Possible Funding Avenues:

  • Increase in the minimum match from states for federal grants for adult education to create greater equity in state contributions and improve services;
  • Require employers who sponsor immigrants either permanently or temporarily to absorb a share of the costs of providing English language classes to these workers;
  • Use the approximately $30 billion in Social Security contributions from unauthorized immigrants recorded in the Social Security Administration’s Earnings Suspense File; and
  • In the case of legalization, states could allocate a portion of fees paid by legalizing immigrants into a State Impact Assistance Account (perhaps as much as $3.3 billion overall) to provide English instruction for adults. 

New Funding for the System Should Trigger Several Reforms:

  • A national panel of experts should design guidelines for state plans that address overall program quality and accountability standards, including designation of acceptable performance ranges for adult students enrolled in English language classes. The panel should also establish professional standards to ensure that adult ESL teachers have demonstrated high levels of competency, training, and/or certification in adult second-language learning. 
    Separate panels of expert and peer reviewers would examine and recommend approval or rejection of state plans. 
  • Robust state quality control systems should include regular monitoring, auditing and reviews of local programs.
  • New funds should be provided to states through a competitive grant program.
  • Federal funding should provide incentives to promote distance learning, increase the scale and reach of information technologies to serve adult English Language Learners, and encourage adoption of successful practices in anytime-anywhere learning.
  • A portion of federal funding should be reserved for transitional grants that help states design and implement high-quality plans and scale up their programs.
  • Congress should require an annual report on levels of demand for English instruction and English language needs at the national, state and, where possible, county levels. The report should also provide guidance on effective instructional approaches. Congress should commission a biennial report on returns to the individual and society on investments in English language instruction.

The report is available online here.