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Teachers Urge Funding for English Language Learners

In New York state, 65 percent of school districts have English language learners. (Michael Anderson/Wikimedia Commons)
In New York state, 65 percent of school districts have English language learners. (Michael Anderson/Wikimedia Commons)
December 8, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. – Teachers are asking New York state to create a new stream of aid to public schools specifically for English language learners.

There are almost 220,000 ELL students in the state, a 22 percent increase over the past 8 years.

State Board of Regents regulations require local districts to give those students more comprehensive base services to improve educational success.

But according to Andy Pallotta, executive vice president of New York State United Teachers, most ELL students live in low wealth, high needs areas.

"It makes it very, very difficult for a district to say, "Well, we need to put more into English language learners and what they need' when we have not enough money to put into our regular programs as they are," he points out.

At hearings in Albany this week, the teachers' union asked legislators to earmark at least $200 million specifically for English language learners.

New York state still owes almost $4 billion in Foundation Aid to schools from the 2006 settlement of a lawsuit to address inequities in school funding. And Pallotta adds that the state's cap on property taxes limits what districts can do on their own.

"Because of the constraints, the district can only raise so much money,” he explains. “Last year, the increase that they could get was near zero, and this year we're thinking it will be in the area of about 1 percent."

While most English language learners are concentrated in large, urban school districts, Pallotta says 65 percent of districts statewide report having ELL students.

"It's in suburban areas such as Brentwood, which has thousands of English language learners, and even some rural areas, some upstate, small cities," he points out.

The union says creating a special category of aid for English language learners would help bridge the gap until the state can fully fund Foundation Aid to public education.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY