Home » Blog » Illinois Schools Need Adequate State Funding for English Learners

Illinois Schools Need Adequate State Funding for English Learners

By Karen Garibay-Mulattieri

In my 35 years as an educator, including time as a principal, I can say with confidence that with adequate, targeted resources, schools can strengthen the education of English learner children.  My school housed the program in our suburban district for English learners K-5, and the local community supported us every step of the way with sufficient resources for every child to receive a bilingual education. 

While the public discourse on state school funding reform is rife with debates about equity versus adequacy and winners and losers, the Latino Policy Forum is currently working with stakeholders on all sides of the debate to ensure that state funding for English learners has the accountability provisions that unequivocally connect these students with the necessary resources. 

Currently, school districts must apply for state and federal funding through a grant application that is approved by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).  The application is an important tool used to compel school districts to identify the students to be served, the instructional design the district will implement, provide a list of qualified staff, submit professional development plans and detail parental engagement activities. Parents of English learners also have a role in decision making and currently sign off on the grant application, ensuring that they are aware of the plans the district has for educating their children. The entire process is designed to ensure that the funding generated by the students provides them with the necessary instruction and support to meet their specific needs.

What’s missing today, and what school funding reform can improve for funding English learners, is adequate resources.  State funding for bilingual education is at its lowest point in a decade and has been level-funded for five straight years, despite annual recommendations from ISBE to increase funding.

In 2016, ISBE reported that 10.4 percent of Illinois students were designated as English Learners and that the majority of them were Spanish speaking.

Illinois has a history of dedicating resources to overcome the challenges that English learning children face. Since the 1970s, the state has dedicated specific funding to these students.  Schools use this funding to hire qualified teachers, provide adequate instructional materials, to offer extended day and summer school programs, to provide professional development, and to provide outreach to non-English speaking parents.  The current method for distributing resources also mandates compliance with civil rights law and Illinois School Code for English Learners, which has contributed to more progress for Latino students than in other states. 

In the school funding reform proposals our state lawmakers are considering, the number and characteristics of the English learners served by every district will have a real bearing on funding formulas, regardless of what reform model is agreed upon.

My school was rated in the top 10 in Kane County according to Chicago Magazine. It was not a wealthy district, but teachers and staff right up to the superintendent cared about equity and believed in dedicating state and federal funding to English learning as early in a child’s life as possible. We had quality materials and training and a firm commitment to helping our students achieve academically – whether they had special needs, were acquiring English, or were of lower socioeconomic status.

As a bilingual principal, I could communicate with Spanish speaking parents directly. Our teachers and administrators met regularly to share ideas and learn about the needs of English learners.  Our school librarian even pitched in and found books and resources in foreign languages. We used art and music classes to incorporate culturally relevant curriculum. Everyone cared and state funding helped translate those positive intentions into positive outcomes.

As Illinois tackles school funding reform, we must ensure that the state honors each child’s unique needs and provides the funding necessary to serve them.