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Funding English Learner Education: Making the Most of Policy and Budget Levers
Policy Briefs
March 2021

Funding English Learner Education: Making the Most of Policy and Budget Levers

The landscape of K-12 education funding in the United States is exceptionally complex. When it comes to funding an equitable, high-quality education for English Learners (ELs), discussions often focus on federal funds under Title III of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—an important source of funding for many aspects of ELs’ education, but by no means the only one. There are numerous policy and budget levers that determine the level of resources available to support these students.

This issue brief provides an overview of these policy and budget mechanisms, how they work, and why they are relevant to EL education. Among the questions it explores: What federal, state, and local funding sources are available? What administrative considerations are at play, such as the rules for how funds are distributed and used? And what do stakeholders within and outside a school system need to know to be empowered to participate in the budgeting process?

Particularly as school systems navigate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the associated economic downturn, and forecasted budget cuts, it will be important to ensure that ELs and their unique learning needs are a priority. The brief lays out a number of ways actors at the federal, state, and local levels—from Congress and the U.S. Department of Education, to state education agencies, districts and schools, and interested community members—could work to increase the adequacy and equity of funding for EL education.

Table of Contents 

1  Funding an Equitable K-12 School System

2  Education Funding Basics
A. Sources of Funding
B. Funding Adequacy
C. An Expansive View of EL Funding

3  Federal Funding Sources
A. Title III
B. Other Programmatic Funds
C. School Improvement Funds
D. Emergency and Recovery Funds

4  State and Local Funding Sources
A. Basic Funding Level
B. EL-Focused State Funds
C. Funding for Integrated, Whole-Child Services

5  A Closer Look at State Funding Mechanisms
A. State EL Funding Designs
B. Student Count Methods

6  Accountability for Funding Equity
A. Data Transparency
B. Informed Stakeholders as Policy Partners

7  Conclusion and Recommendations