Cost in Translation: English Language Education in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area
February 2015 | View the Full Report
The high cost of educating K-12 public school students who are not proficient in English is well documented. So too, is the fact that most Limited English Proficient (LEP) students are children of illegal alien parents. The recent "surge" of Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) and families with young children who poured across our borders in the spring and summer of 2014 exacerbated an already formidable and costly task for public school educators and administrators in many localities across the United States.
According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 55,000 UACs were released to relatives and other sponsors throughout the United States between October 2013 and September 2014. Over 5,100 UACs were settled in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where there is a sizeable illegal alien population of approximately 438,000 with an additional approximately 100,000 U.S.-born children of illegal aliens. The illegal alien population in the D.C. metro area has grown steadily along with the overall foreign-born population. So, too, has the number of students in area public schools that are not proficient in English.
The money spent on LEP education in the D.C. area is substantial. Most of that funding comes from local sources, usually from property taxes, with most of the rest coming out of state budgets. The federal government, which is primarily responsible for the influx of immigrant and children of immigrant into local school systems, contributes only a negligible amount of funding to offset the cost of LEP education.
While more money is being spent in D.C. area schools on LEP education, these same school districts are cutting funding in other areas, or struggling to find ways to fund current ones, usually by proposing to raise property and transit taxes. As the number of LEP students in area schools continues to increase, the resources available for English-speaking students are diverted into programs for non-English speakers. More study is needed to determine the full effects that a large influx of LEP students into a school district has on the students already there, but it is clear there is an "achievement gap" between native English speakers and LEP students, which causes more funds to be devoted to LEP education.