How Districts Are Using ARP ESSER Funds to Support Multilingual Learners

It is not news that the pandemic had a devastating impact on student learning across the country, or that some student populations were more heavily burdened by the pandemic’s ripple effects than others. But among the many students whose education was disrupted by the pandemic, consider this: multilingual learners have had to grapple with the academic setbacks of the pandemic while also facing the demands of learning a new language, experiencing some of the highest rates of poverty of any student population, and being overrepresented in high-poverty schools. Without effective pandemic recovery interventions, the disparities in educational outcomes that existed between multilingual learners and their English-speaking peers pre-pandemic are expected to widen, given several compounding factors disrupting their academic instruction at greater degrees.

As it distributed American Recovery Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding, the U.S. Department of Education required states and districts to address multilingual students’ needs in their plans for using these critical funds. Research is clarifying that the impact was worse than expected in schools with high poverty rates, and that districts must significantly increase the amount of federal relief funds allocated to address the demand. However, general investments in academic interventions that are broadly focused on low-income students may not meet the specific needs of multilingual learners. And now that districts across the country have received their ESSER funds, we want to know how those dollars are being spent to help multilingual learners get back on track. We also want to highlight the ways this unprecedented funding can be used to support multilingual students, so that other districts have a blueprint to follow.

TNTP analyzed district ESSER spending plans (collected by information company Burbio) in five states with significant multilingual student populations: Texas, California, New Mexico, Illinois and North Carolina. Based on how Burbio categorized spending plans, out of over 1,200 districts, 15 percent included interventions for multilingual learners in their plans, and 9 percent attached a specific dollar amount to those interventions, an indication of the concreteness of the plan and likelihood that targeted supports would make it to implementation. Though multilingual learners benefit from academic interventions that reach the whole student body, targeted supports that recognize their unique assets and needs, like high quality instructional materials that support students’ home languages, are important to ensuring they can attain English proficiency and reach their academic potential.

Our analysis indicates that 2.8 million multilingual learners in Burbio’s dataset attend school in a district that did not plan to spend ESSER funding on interventions targeted to them. To the extent that ESSER spending plans are an indication of how districts are supporting their multilingual learners in recovering from pandemic learning losses, this lack of targeted supports for such a large number of students is alarming. In the five states we focused on, 117 districts allocated an average of $1 million, or 3% of their total ESSER funding, to such interventions. Funded programs ranged from high-dosage tutoring and teachers trained in bilingual education, to high-quality instructional materials, interpreter services for reaching non-English speaking families, and increased capacity for testing and reclassification (a process that ensures multilingual learners are accessing the right level of language instruction). 

These 117 districts serve around 500,000 multilingual learners, almost half of whom attend school in four large districts: Houston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Chicago and Los Angeles. During the spring and summer of 2022, TNTP is interviewing a few of the districts whose plans are putting ESSER dollars towards promising interventions that could help meet the needs of multilingual learners.   

In one district interviewed, where robust supports for multilingual students already existed, ESSER funds are being used to build capacity and increase the effectiveness of those supports. The district currently lacks enough teachers with bilingual certification to match its population of students, so district leaders are using the funding to help more of their teachers access that certification by reimbursing tuition for the necessary classes and bringing professors to the district, rather than having teachers travel to the universities where they are offered. In another district TNTP spoke to, the funding was being used to expand existing programs like afterschool tutoring and summer enrichment for multilingual students. College student tutors received training in how to work with multilingual learners, to ensure high-quality tutoring. 

To share examples of effective spending on multilingual learner interventions from our findings, we are collaborating with the EduRecovery Hub, a resource for collecting and vetting these promising practices. You can access a quick resource with promising practices and guiding questions at Spending for Equity: Multilingual Learners.

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About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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