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Press Release · April 12, 2007

State’s Reach Exceeds Its Grasp In Teaching Immigrants English

California’s English as a Second Language Program Funding Can’t Keep Pace with Demand

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 12, 2007 — California’s main program for providing instruction in English as a Second Language (ESL) is tied to a 1970s level of funding that cannot match exploding demand, according to a new study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

For over 150 years, the state has supported the concept that an English-speaking population is essential to economic, political, and social success: It began providing free-of-charge English instruction in the 1850s. However, ESL resources are distributed based on an outdated formula – and not on demand. ESL is carried out on the local level by adult schools (run by local school districts), community colleges, libraries, and other community organizations. All of these agencies receive funding in drastically different ways, despite having the same mission and serving the same population.

The funding problem is perhaps most striking for adult schools: They are by far the largest ESL provider, responsible for 75 percent of the state’s ESL students. Yet, the state’s funding formula for these schools does not reflect the growing demand. The population targeted for ESL (more than 18 years old and not proficient in English) has soared from 900,000 in 1980 to nearly 3 million in 2000. That is an annual growth rate of nearly 6 percent among residents who are defined as needing ESL. However, funding for the state’s ESL program is dictated by 1979 legislation that limits growth in adult education funding to 2.5 percent per year. Consequently, close to 60 percent of adult schools in California exceed their funding limit. Their options are to over-enroll students, reduce the quality of the adult programs, or turn students away.

The study, California’s Commitment to Adult English Learners: Caught Between Funding and Need, argues that the state’s system funding ESL should be revamped to address changing and growing demand. “California decided a long time ago that the primary way to help integrate immigrants is through English language instruction – but the funding system that supports this goal is nearly 30 years old, fundamentally flawed, and should be reworked,” according to the report’s author, economist and PPIC research fellow Arturo Gonzalez.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.