Danos más dinero.
امنحنا المزيد من المال.
موږ ډیرې پیسې راکړئ.
For anyone who’s confused — perhaps the state’s incoming governor? — officials repeated the above message as clearly and often as possible during a press conference about New Haven’s growing population of English language learners.
The message, in plain English: Give us more money.
The mayor, two school board members, an alder and a school administrator all held a press conference at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon to deliver that message, calling on Governor-Elect Ned Lamont to increase funding for bilingual education in his first budget.
“The downside of a limited ability to speak, understand and read English puts students behind, affecting progress among the rest of the class and impacting the self-image, morale and socialization of individual students,” Mayor Toni Harp said. “Today, we’re eager to raise the public awareness of that challenge as the city’s budget-preparation process gets underway, with an eye to the capitol in Hartford, where a new governor and a new legislative session.”
According to the state’s last count, New Haven’s public schools enrolled about 3,400 students who do not speak English as a native language, representing about 16 percent of the student body. Mayor Harp said there’s been a 25 percent increase in the number of English language learners, just in the time that she’s been in office.
Primarily, these students grow up speaking Spanish, through there are also sizable contingents who speak Arabic, Pashto and Mandarin at home.
On the most recent standardized test, English language learners scored behind their peers who grew up speaking English. In the city’s elementary schools, there’s a gap, based on primary language, of 27.6 points in reading and 15.5 points in math in the percentage of students on grade level.
“We have this data. They’re the fastest-growing population, and we need to do something about that,” said board member Jamell Cotto. “This needs to be addressed.”
To teach that population, the city currently employs 50 bilingual teachers, 33 English-as-a-second-language teachers, 14 tutors, 4 instructional coaches, and 3 Central Office administrators.
But that teaching force isn’t big enough to keep up with the demand, especially as the district tries to move away from transitional English classes, where students gradually phase out their native language.
Ideally, the district would like to expand its dual-language program, which is currently limited to four elementary schools: Columbus Academy, John C. Daniels, Clinton Avenue and Fair Haven Schools. That two-way immersion is considered the gold standard, because students go on to high school speaking and reading in two languages.
“New Haven, as the city that has welcomed people from all over the world regardless of the way that they have come, has provided an open-door policy, in terms of where parents choose to enroll their students. However, that creates a burden financially,” said Abie Quiñones-Benitez, director of the district’s programs for English learners. “Would we want to do more? Yes, but we don’t have the finances to do that.”
On recent state budgets, Gov. Dannel Malloy has recommended flat-funding bilingual education, capping the supplemental funding at $1.916 million in the last three years.
In the last budget, the legislature found more money for bilingual education, but not much. In 2017-18, they increased funding to $3.491 million.
The federal government provides some supplement through Title I and Title III grants, too.
Together, those grants add up to less than a million bucks for New Haven’s schools, a supplement of about $290 per English language learner. The city government has to make up the difference for any bilingual education, forcing school administrators to make tough choices in their programming for high-needs students, crowding out initiatives for those who are challenged by disabilities or poverty.
“Every school, regardless of the neighborhood, has this obligation. They are stepping up and doing what they need to do. But some of our schools have many, many more challenges than just our English learners,” Quiñones-Benitez said. “We need this support from everyone in the legislature to increase the support that we provide for bilingual education, so that we can provide better programming and release some of the burden that the city has.”
Officials said that’s where the state needs to come through. As the population of foreign-language speakers rises locally, they say that now’s the right time for Lamont to make bilingual education a priority.
A spokesperson for Lamont’s transition team declined to comment, saying they’d been unable to respond before publication.
Last month, when the Board of Alders Education Committee held a hearing about teaching non-native English speakers, dozens turned out to testify. The committee’s vice-chair, Fair Haven Alder Kenneth Reveiz couldn’t remember seeing “that much public interest” in a topic before.
This week, Reveiz said they’re hoping to capitalize on the “momentum” to convince the governor and the legislature that the city’s lining up behind a unified message, whatever language it’s spoken in: It’s time for more funding.