Policymakers across the states face a challenge each year of adequately allocating funding to support specific student populations. English language learners are one of those student populations requiring specific supports and services to ensure they are receiving the same level of education as their peers.
About 1 in 10 public school students — or 5 million students across the country — are English language learners. States have many ways of defining English language learners in statutes, including English language learner, English learner and dual language learner. Many states define English language learners in policy and regulation either with a state-created definition or the federal definition.
Based on our analysis, 48 states and the District of Columbia provide funding specifically for English language learners. Similar to categorical funding for other student populations, funding for English language learners looks different in every state. However, states primarily use one of three funding models:
Formula Funded: Funding for English language learners is included in the state’s primary funding formula. For example, in the District of Columbia, English language learners receive a weight of 0.49 in the funding formula.
Categorical Funding: States allocate funding through separate mechanisms outside of the primary funding formula. For instance, in Utah, lawmakers distribute additional per pupil funding for English language learners through a block grant program outside of the funding formula.
Reimbursement: Districts submit expenditures to the state, and the state reimburses districts for all or a portion of their spending once costs are accrued. In Illinois, for example, policymakers set aside funding in the budget for districts that offer instructional programs for English language learners, and districts must apply for reimbursement for these programs.
Most states fund English language learners through the state funding formula or a categorical program. About half of states provide a flat weight — either an additional percentage or flat dollar amount — for each identified student, regardless of their level of language proficiency or the types of services offered. The second most common approach is a multiple weight system, which allocates funding based on the amount of time that students have been classified as English language learners, based on proficiency levels or based on the concentration of English language learners in a district.
For a deep dive on each state’s approach to policies for English language learners, see our 50-State Comparison on English Language Learners. (While published in 2014, we will be updating it this year to include recent policy changes.) Check back here on Ed Note next week for the final installment of this series on school funding for rural schools.