School districts not getting money for thousands of English-language learners

Photo: ELL student

Colorado’s public schools have 2,000 more English-language learners compared to last year, according to recently released state figures. Their numbers have more than doubled since the 2001-2002 school year, bringing the total to 126,750 students who are learning English.

But districts are not getting money for nearly three-quarters of those students, about 91,000 kids, according to figures from the Colorado School Finance Project. That’s because Colorado law states that districts get extra money for kids to learn English for two years, with most of it in the first year. Experts agree it can take four to seven years to become proficient in speaking English.

“The districts that have a lot of newcomers are getting more money, but there are a lot of districts that have students who have been enrolled two or three years who are getting a pretty tiny amount of money,” said Pat Chapman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Education’s Federal Programs unit.

Under Colorado’s English Language Proficiency Act, districts with students who speak some or no English get $869 per student. If a student has limited English, districts get $34 per student.

Bills may surface this legislative session to provide support for English-language learners for up to five years. Chapman said bills may also try to erase the funding distinction between students who speak no, some or limited English.