OLYMPIA, Wash. – The number of students in Washington state in need of special bilingual education is increasing significantly, and so is the cost to taxpayers.
According to a recent report produced by the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, roughly 10 percent of the state’s public school student population are considered English Language Learners – students who need special bilingual instruction because their native language is not English.
The report, an update on the status of Washington’s Transitional Bilingual Instruction Program, reveals that the 130,308 ELL students represented an 8.7 percent increase from the previous year, with the highest enrollment in urban areas along Interstate 5 and rural stretches of the Yakima Valley.
“Spanish was the most common of the 220 non-English languages spoken by Washington students (66.4 percent) in 2015-16,” according to the report. “The next ten most common languages were Russian, Vietnamese, Somali, Chinese, Arabic, Ukrainian, Marshallese, Tagalog, Korean, and Punjabi.”
The most significant increase in non-English speakers came from those speaking Arabic at home, which has jumped 103 percent over the last five years.
The Seattle Times explained that local school districts collect data on newly enrolled students and if a parent indicates English is not their primary language, then students are tested on their English proficiency. If they don’t do very well, they’re entered into the Transitional Bilingual Instruction Program, which provides additional funding for schools while they track the student’s performance over many years.
“In addition to basic education funding provided for all students, districts receive TBIP state funds to provide supplemental instruction to support language development for ELs,” according to the state report.
“Funding to district was based on a September through June average headcount of 113,676 TBIP-eligible students. In the 2015-16 school year, the TBIP reported a 3.8 percent increase in students identified for services as compared to the previous school year,” it continues. “TBIP provided an average allocation of $1,000 per eligible student over the 2015-16 school year. Total expenditures to support EL programs across the state was $140.5 million, of which $113.1 million were from the TBIP funding. This was a 13.3 percent increase in TBIP total expenditures from the previous year.”
The status report states local schools also chipped in about $27.3 million in local tax dollars to educate non-English speaking students on top of the TBIP funds and federal Title III funding.
The majority of the ELL students (53 percent) are in the third grade, or younger, the Times reports, and they’re driving significant enrollment increases in numerous school districts.
“Since 2005-06, the number of ELs served by TBIP has increased by 48.1 percent,” according to the report. “Thirty districts had an EL headcount of at least 25 percent of their total student population.
“Thirty-four districts enrolled more than 1,000 ELs. These districts collectively served 73.5 percent of all ELs enrolled in the TBIP statewide. Seven of these districts reported an enrollment increase of 10 percent or more since 2014-15.”