ED, DOJ Post New English-Language Learners Guidance, $800M in Grants

Agencies release guidance reminding public schools of their obligations to address the needs of the country’s five million English Language Learners and emphasizing the appropriate ways to spend $800 million in Title III funds meant to improve ELL achievement.

The Departments of Education and Justice issued new guidance on the rights of the nation’s ELL students, making sure that schools provide them with equal access to a high-quality education. The rights of ELL students have emerged as a ED policy issue as the proportion of such students has increased.

Under federal law, public schools must:

  • Provide parents with limited English proficiency with information about school programs, services, and activities in a language they understand.
  • Identify English-learner students in a timely, valid and reliable manner; offer all English-learner students an educationally sound language-assistance program;
  • Provide qualified staff and sufficient resources for instructing English-learner students; ensure English-learner students have equitable access to school programs and activities;
  • Avoid unnecessary segregation of English-learner students from other students;
  • Monitor students’ progress in learning English and doing grade-level class work;
  • Remedy any academic deficits English-learner students incurred while in a language assistance program;
  • Move students out of language-assistance programs when they are proficient in English and monitor those students to ensure they were not prematurely removed;
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of English-learner programs.

Title III Funding

The guidance also encourages state education departments and districts to re-evaulate their Title III spending to ensure it was providing real help to the ELL population. Currently, all states receive federal funds under Title III, Part A because they all have an approved plan. States may reserve no more than 5% of the funds for certain state-level activities, and no more than 15% of the funds for subgrants to school districts that have experienced a significant increase in the number or percentage of immigrant children.

Not all school districts that enroll EL students receive such subgrants from their SEA under Title III, Part A. Some school districts have too small a population of EL students to meet the minimum subgrant requirement or are not members of a consortium of districts that receive a subgrant. Nonetheless, all schools are required to meet the ELL requirements whether they get a portion of the Title III money or not, the guidance says.

The guidance notes that because the civil rights laws require SEAs and school districts to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers for EL students, Title III, Part A funds may not be used to fund the activities to meet a district’s civil rights obligations. Thus, SEAs and school districts can use these funds only for activities beyond those activities necessary to comply with federal civil rights obligations.

“The diversity of this nation is one of its greatest attributes,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division at DOJ. “Ensuring English learner students are supported in their education supports all of us. Today’s guidance — 40 years after passage of the landmark Equal Educational Opportunities Act — will help schools meet their legal obligations to ensure all students can succeed.”

ED also released a toolkit, from its Office of English Language Acquisition, to help districts identify ELLs and the two civil rights offices provided a joint fact sheet outlining the rights of parents and guardians with limited English proficiency.

About Frank Klimko

Frank Klimko is a nationally known journalist, grants expert and speech writer/speaker. He has years of experience helping nonprofits devise lists of the right funding opportunities and secure funding from these foundations and corporate entities. Clients have focused on an array of areas including child care, homeless, hunger and K-12 education. Additionally, he is a Freedom of Information Act expert, who has helped numerous clients with securing proprietary information from the federal government. Currently, Frank Klimko writes the Children & Youth Funding Report and Private Grants Alert, which are Washington DC-based publications. CYF is a daily publication covering Congress, the Education Dept. and the various federal regulatory agencies. PGA, another daily publication, covers the world of private philanthropy.
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