E.g., 09/25/2023
E.g., 09/25/2023
Funding an Equitable Education for English Learners in the United States
August 2016

Funding an Equitable Education for English Learners in the United States

With nearly 10 percent of U.S. elementary and secondary students less than fully fluent in English, many school districts are struggling to develop the capacity to meet the needs of these nearly 5 million children from immigrant and refugee backgrounds. More than two-thirds of these students live in the traditional immigrant-destination states of California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas. The states experiencing the greatest growth in EL enrollment, however, are new-destination states. Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee each saw their EL population grow more than 100 percent between 2000 and 2014.

While local communities have long been the primary sources of education funding, state resources are intended to even out disparities between wealthier and poorer districts, and federal funds also help fill gaps. But a number of states fail to ensure equitable funding across school districts. And while many states have used cost studies to provide empirical data on how much funding districts need to achieve desired educational outcomes, few of these analyses focus on the specific resource needs of ELs.

This study examines the diverse approaches taken by federal, state, and local systems to provide appropriate funding for the education of these students. For this report, examples of state-level policies were drawn from across the country, and additional information on how policies play out at the state and local level was gathered from interviews with administrators and policymakers from California, Colorado, and New York. The report concludes with a discussion of the implications of this work and provides recommendations for improvements.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Equity and Adequacy: Key Questions in School Finance

A. Leveling the Playing Field with State Funding

B. Using Cost Studies to Set Funding Levels

C. Challenges in Determining Appropriate Funding Levels

III. Pieces of the Funding Puzzle

A. Federal Funding

B. State Supplementary Funding

C. Local Funding

IV. Implementing Funding Systems at the State and Local Levels

A. Factors that Impact the Cost of EL Education

B. Stakeholder Communication and Knowledge

V. Implications and Recommendations


Appendix A. Investigatory Questions

Appendix B. Supplementary Funding in California, Colorado, and New York