School Finance and English Language Learners: A Legislative Perspective

Oscar Jimenez-Castellanos


The state of California educates over six million or twelve percent of the nation’s student population. Of the six million students, over three million of California students are enrolled in free/reduced lunch programs. Approximately three million are Latino and 1.5 million are classified as English Language Learners (ELLs). Of these, eighty-five percent are Spanish speaking (CDE, 2009). The clear demographic trend in California is an increase of students in poverty, of Latino students and of Spanish speaking English Language Learners (ELL), at the same time that we are experiencing a decrease in White students (CDE, 2009). For example, the White student population was forty percent in 1995 and dropped to thirty percent in 2005, while the Latino population increased from thirty-eight percent to forty-seven percent during this same time period.

English Language Learners are significantly underperforming in math and reading compared to White students in all grade levels (CDE, 2009). The achievement gap actually continues to increase the longer that students are in school. The U.S. Census data (2000) reveals that only approximately 50 out of 100 Latinos graduate from high school, only 10 out of 100 graduate from college, a mere four out of 100 receive a graduate degree, and less than a half percent graduate with a doctorate.

These trends create major challenges for policy makers and advocates. Most critical is examining the potential causes of the achievement gap. Consequently, we need to understand the school finance policy that has most affected English language learner students if we expect to improve the educational opportunity and attainment of this growing community. Most scholarly articles related to California school finance and English Language Learners focus on court cases (i.e. Serrano v. Priest ; Rodriguez v. LAUSD), propositions (i.e. Prop. 13 ; Prop. 98) and/or budget revenue/expenditure analysis (i.e. local property taxes and fees; state general purpose revenue).

Notably missing from the scholarship is a historical legislative overview to understand entitlement funding earmarked to target ELLs in California. The author focuses primarily on categorical entitlement funds because entitlement resources are more stable since the funding source is guaranteed to renew each fiscal year, and, due to a long history of availability, we know more about these funds. Currently, only two significant entitlement categorical funds designated for ELLs in California exist. They are State Economic Impact Aid (EIA) and Federal Title III funds (formerly Title VII). The former allocation accounts for the majority of the funds provided to directly serve ELLs. In addition, other key legislation (e.g. AB 1329. AB 507) related to English Language Learners is often cited in the bilingual education literature but without an emphasis on the fiscal impact including AB 2284 (1972), the first legislation that provided funds for bilingual education in California.This article provides (1) an overview of the major legislative actions affecting entitlement funding for California English Language Learners since 1968 and (2) a discussion of the current salient issues to improve education for ELLs related to school finance.


finance; ELL; resources

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