In recent years the number and costs of non-English-speaking students in our region has spiked upward in ways never before seen in some districts and with no end in sight, say local school officials.
The record-high enrollments of limited-English-proficient (LEP) students also come at a time when financial pressures for the region’s schools are mounting.
“We (have) students from 19 countries speaking 17 different native languages,” Rosemary Weathers Burnham, spokeswoman for Erlanger Elsmere Schools in Northern Kentucky, said. “The (LEP) program’s population changes each year as students move in from around the world.”
These newest arrivals vary widely in their native languages and cultures, but they share a common goal: Learn to speak, read and write in English to speed their assimilation.
The melting pot of students sometimes amazes others already here, including Denny Garcia, a Mason High School senior from Mexico.
“There are so many different cultures and different styles. I’ve met people from Ukraine, China, Japan and some from my own country,” said Denny, who speaks English he learned in the school’s LEP program, which includes students from two dozen nations.
“It helps me to understand better the language they speak in America, and it opens a lot of opportunities for me to go on in the future,” he said.
The trend could have some troubling financial ramifications, education officials say. Some LEP program costs are covered by federal grants, but most of the money comes from districts’ operating funds. And neither Ohio nor Kentucky education officials track district spending trends for LEP programs.
“This influx of newcomers places increased pressure on school districts to provide special instructional support for non-English-speaking or limited-English-speaking students,” Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said.
Still, the positives of LEP programs extend far beyond its special classrooms, say local school officials.
“We have the United Nations here at Mason High School, and they (LEP students) actually bring the world to Mason,” said Pat Sutton, English as a Second Language coordinator for Mason Schools.
“Multicultural classrooms help all students, foreign- and non-foreign-born, to eliminate stereotyping, prejudice, racism and bigotry,” Jennie Thompson, coordinator for Fairfield Schools’ programs for non-English-speaking students, said. “It builds tolerance and helps to eradicate cultural barriers for all of our students.”
LEP programs nationwide now enroll more than 5 million students whose limited English language skills “affect their ability to participate successfully in education programs and achieve high academic standards,” according to officials at the U.S. Department of Education’s National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition.
Locally, school officials say most non-English-speaking students come from Spanish-speaking nations.
In the 2007-08 school year, 34,886 LEP students comprised 2 percent of Ohio’s total public school enrollment.
Last school year, the number of LEP students in Ohio increased to 40,215 or 2.4 percent.
Kentucky had 12,896 ELL (English Language Learner) students statewide in 2007-08 or 1.9 percent, which rose to 18,753, or 2.8 percent, for the 2012-13 school year.
But some local school districts have seen much sharper increases in the last five years, according to state school officials.
Hamilton County’s Princeton Schools saw a 214 percent jump in LEP students, from 261 to 819 students, from 2007-08 to 2012-13.
Other area districts showing marked increases during the same years include Cincinnati Public Schools (77 percent); Mason (74 percent); Lakota (70 percent) and Fairfield (66 percent).
Non-English-speaking students mean higher costs
More non-English-speaking students mean more costs for local schools. Though the overall costs are a relatively small slice of many districts’ budgets, those portions are increasing, adding to the financial burden of some districts.
Butler County’s Lakota Schools last saw voters approve a new operating levy in 2005, and they are on the November ballot with another proposed tax hike. The district has cut millions in recent years from its operating budget, eliminating busing for thousands, laying off more than 100 teachers and raising sports and other fees.
Lakota spent $381,943 on LEP students and teachers in 2007-08 but saw that nearly triple to $1.2 million last school year.
Lakota, like Mason, Princeton, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s Boone County Schools, is often a magnet for newly migrated families moving in because international employers such as General Electric, Procter & Gamble and Toyota are nearby.
“We have had a significant increase in expenditures for LEP since 2007,” Edward Theroux, director of student services for Princeton Schools, said.
“Princeton is an extremely diverse community that does prepare our children to work with all different types of people from all walks in life,” Theroux said.
The district does that by recruiting and hiring “staff with additional certification and qualification such as being bilingual.
Ashbury says regardless of the additional costs for local schools the benefits are worth it.
“While the net effect is to place additional financial burdens on school districts,” he said, “at the same time, it is important to note that America is a country of immigrants and we, as a nation, have always been able to meet these needs.”
Where are they all from?
According to Ohio Department of Education guidelines, which are similar to Kentucky’s and other states, Limited English Proficient students represent more than 110 different native or home languages.
The top 10 language groups include Spanish, Somali, Arabic, Japanese, Pennsylvania Dutch, Russian,Vietnamese, Ukrainian, Korean and Serbo-Croatian.
LEP students have two major goals in their development of English proficiency:
• Use English in their academic achievement in all content areas.
• Use English to participate effectively in U.S. society.
LOCAL SCHOOLS SEEING MORE LEP STUDENTS, MORE COSTS
• Lakota: 2007-08: 574 LEP students or 3.3 percent of enrollment.
2012-13: 974 students or 6.3 percent.
Cost in 2007-08 … $381,943.
Cost in 2012-13 … $1.2 million.
• Mason: 2007-08: 266 LEP students or 2.6 percent of enrollment.
2012-13: 464 students or 4.5 percent.
Cost in 2007-08 … $612,406.
Cost in 2012-13 … $1.2 million
• Princeton: 2007-08: 261 LEP students or 5.1 percent of enrollment.
2012-13: 819 students or 16.1 percent.
Cost in 2007-08 … $479,579
Cost in 2012-13 … $1.4 million
• Boone County Schools: 2007-08: 764 LEP students or 3 percent of enrollment.
2012-13: 1,005 or 5 percent.
Cost in 2007-08 … $675,000
Cost in 2012-13 … $1 million
• Kenton County Schools: 2007-08: 177 LEP students (percentage of enrollment unavailable).
2012-2013: 354 students or 2.5 percent.
Cost in 2007-08 … $212,634
Cost in 2012-13 … $305,375
English education is requirement under federal law
Under civil rights law, schools are obligated to ensure that English Language Learning (ELL) students have equal access to education.
There are approximately 5 million students in U.S. schools with limited English language skills, which affects their ability to participate successfully in education programs.
Ohio, Kentucky and other states allow for local school districts to determine the content and operation of their ELL programs based on general state guidelines.
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