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As Number of Immigrant-Origin Children Rises in North America and Europe, Importance of Well-Designed Systems of School Support Takes on New Urgency

Press Release
Wednesday, June 22, 2016

As Number of Immigrant-Origin Children Rises in North America and Europe, Importance of Well-Designed Systems of School Support Takes on New Urgency

WASHINGTON – Some national, regional and local governments in Europe and North America have well-designed systems to target supplementary funding for students who are immigrants or the children of immigrants, while others are just beginning to establish policies and practices necessary to meet the needs of a growing population that typically has achievement gaps compared to non-immigrant peers, according to a new report.

The report, by the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy and the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration, or SVR) examines the supplementary funding mechanisms that support schools and school districts in meeting the specific needs of migrant-background students in primary and secondary schools in four countries: Canada, France, Germany and the United States. Between 26 and 40 percent of secondary school students in these countries are immigrants or have at least one parent who is an immigrant.

In Improving Education for Migrant-Background Students: A Transatlantic Comparison of School Funding, authors Julie Sugarman, Simon Morris-Lange and Margie McHugh examine the three types of mechanisms used to provide supplementary funding: weighted formulas that supplement per-pupil funding, categorical funding and state government reimbursement for services provided by schools.

The cross-country comparison demonstrates wide acknowledgment among policymakers that additional services—and therefore resources—are needed to effectively serve students from immigrant and refugee families. Further, the authors write: "Supplementary funding mechanisms are not simply administrative measures that push the challenges of teaching migrant-background students from the national or regional level down to localities; rather, elements of their design often play a key role in aligning the varied efforts of policymakers to support migrant-background students’ learning and cultural integration.”

The report, underwritten with a research grant from the German foundation Stiftung Mercator, notes that studies have demonstrated that migrant-background students are likely to be at risk of educational difficulties due to lack of proficiency in the language of instruction, limited or interrupted prior formal education, lack of cultural or systems knowledge, the effects of low socioeconomic status and possible physical or emotional trauma experienced by immigrant and refugee students in countries of origin or while migrating.

With many states and school districts working to develop the capacities needed to effectively serve linguistically and culturally diverse students, the report shines a light on the funding approaches and operating mechanisms that key national and state governments are using to provide the professional training and instructional resources necessary to support the academic success and successful longer-term integration of these students.

While the four countries studied use different methods to target supplementary funding, the authors find that the differences are perhaps greatest in the strength of their education data systems, which affects the ability to effectively target and monitor the use of such funds and their impact. The report examines the methods to identify and count target students, where the supplementary funds are typically spent and the balance set between flexibility and specificity in their use.

While France has the highest level of national government involvement in school funding and the United States the least, education policies and school funding in Canada and Germany are largely in the hands of regional governments. For all four countries, schools and school districts are largely funded based on enrollment figures. Canadian provinces and territories and U.S. states most frequently opt to provide supplementary funding to migrant-background students by using a weighted formula, whereas French national education authorities and the German states (Länder) tend to favor categorical models, which operate outside of the primary formula.

Mechanisms of Supplementary Funding for Migrant-Background Students Used by Regional and National Governments, 2015

“The complexity and continuing evolution of policies and practices in this area are striking,” the authors conclude. “Given the volatile nature of migration flows and the wide variation in student characteristics and local system capacities, the need for active learning from existing supplementary funding mechanisms is evident—as is the need to assess whether they adequately support schools and school districts in meeting the needs of students from a migrant background.”

The report can be downloaded at: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/improving-education-migrant-background-students-transatlantic-comparison-school-funding.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more, visit www.migrationpolicy.org.