Imagine that you drop your first-grade student off at school, and from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. they’re learning math and English Language Arts exclusively in English. Then, after lunch, they switch classes and now they’re learning science and social studies exclusively in Spanish for the rest of the day. Hello turns into hola, pencil turns into lapiz, and book turns into libro. Sounds impossibly cool, doesn’t it? And yet, thousands of students spend their days in one of the United States’ more than 3,600 dual-language immersion (DLI) programs offering precisely this experience.
Dual-language programs offer students access to grade-level academic content in two languages. Students typically enter the program in their early years (ideally, ages 4 to 6 ) and develop reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in English and a second language as they move into the secondary grades. The long-term goals of DLI programs are: bilingualism, biliteracy, high academic achievement, and cultural competency. These programs are widely recognized as the best instructional approach for helping English learners (ELs) to learn English, develop their bilingualism, and succeed academically.
Over the past decade, these programs have become increasingly popular across the country. States such as New Mexico, Washington, and New York (some of the states with the largest EL populations) have taken large strides in expanding access to these programs for their EL students. Other states such as Delaware, North Carolina, and Utah have created grant opportunities for local education agencies (LEAs) to start dual-language programs. (See Map 1 for the state-by-state count of current programs.)
Yet most of these approaches are piecemeal—providing small awards to select districts each year. By contrast, Texas’ new dual-language policy experiment wires its support for expanding dual-language programs into the state’s school funding formula. To be sure, the state has long been a leader in bilingual education. And its recent passage of House Bill 3 (HB 3) in 2019, may have created a blueprint for the most efficient and effective DLI program funding formula in the country.
So what does this funding formula look like?
How HB 3 Works in Texas
In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed HB 3, a wide-ranging and historic school finance bill. Under HB 3, all students participating in a DLI program received additional Basic Education Allotment (BEA) funds. In essence, this means that schools enrolling students in DLI programs generate additional state funding, which translates into more resources to support their campuses. The state allocated an additional weight of 0.05 (for a total 0.15 weight, or $924 more in funding, at current levels) to the basic allotment for any EL student participating in a DLI program. The state also allocated an additional weight of 0.05 (for a total 0.05 weight, or $308 more in funding) for any non-EL student participating in a DLI program. In other words, for example, a DLI classroom with ten ELs and eleven non-ELs enrolled would generate $12,628 in additional state funding for their district over and above what an English-only classroom would have generated.
The bill sparked immediate results. In 2019, with the incentive of these extra funds, the number of DLI programs in Texas grew rapidly. Seven schools in the Dallas Independent school district added a dual-language immersion program a month after this bill was passed. Four schools in the Houston independent school district added DLI programs for the following school year. Currently, the state of Texas has the second-most DLI programs in the country, with more than 500.
So what exactly has made this Texas’ DLI funding formula so effective?
Funding for Non-ELs
DLI programs operate best in a linguistically integrated two-way model: bilingual instruction for ELs who are fluent in the non-English partner language (Spanish, Mandarin, French, Hmong, and so on) and non-ELs who are fluent in English. Yet, it can be difficult to fully fund two-way model dual language programs, given that non-ELs usually do not receive the additional language program funding that ELs generate. This funding structure sets up an inherent tension: if non-ELs get seats in bilingual education programs to convert them into two-way DLI models, they generate less funding for the programs than ELs. But if non-ELs don’t receive seats, the result will be linguistically segregated “one-way” bilingual programs, and so while they will have more funding, they also will likely be less effective for the ELs who are enrolled.
In a study of dual language programs in Texas, the costs of providing curriculum and assessments for non-ELs ranged from $5,000 per program in small dual language programs to more than $17,000 in large dual language programs. These high costs can deter districts from adopting two-way dual language programs and stick to more traditional English language development programs (transitional EL, pull-out ESL).
By providing extra funding for non-ELs in dual language programs, Texas promotes and makes the adoption of integrated two-way dual language programs more accessible for schools that wish to adopt the most effective DLI program model.
Most states do not continue to provide substantial funding for DLI programs outside of the initial one- to three-year start-up range. In the state of Oregon, for example, two schools each year are awarded start-up grants of $10,000 each to support start-up costs and training costs of DLI programs. An additional $31,050 is provided for the second year. In Utah, twenty to twenty-five schools receive funding to start up dual language programs at a maximum of $100,000 each year for the first two years. While these funding models are productive and support the growth of dual language programs across each respective state, effective funding for stable, high-quality implementation of educational reforms like dual language programs should not be a one-shot deal.
In Texas, it’s a different story. By increasing the annual BEA funding for all students in dual language programs, as long as enrollment projections remain relatively stable, schools have access to a dependable and annual source of extra funding for their dual language programs. In return, these programs are sustainable and affordable in the long-run.
Prioritizing Placement of ELs in Dual Language Immersion Programs
The incentive that HB 3 creates for schools to place their ELs in dual language programs may be the most controversial part of the funding formula. In the state of Texas, ELs not enrolled in dual language programs receive an additional weight of 0.10 ($616 per year) while EL’s enrolled in dual language programs are allocated an additional weight of 0.15 ($924 per year).
The premium HB 3 places on DLI program enrollment has been a point of concern for many education advocates in Texas, being that only 20 percent of EL students are enrolled in DLI programs, and many school districts are unable to offer dual language programs due to a shortage of qualified bilingual teachers. Many advocates believe that the funding for EL students should increase evenly as a whole across the spectrum of EL programs.
This critique is certainly fair—but it is also compatible with HB 3. That is, there is no reason that Texas cannot raise its funding weight for EL students in all instructional programs, while also retaining an additional weighting to incent districts to establish integrated, evidence-based DLI programs.
Providing extra funding for DLI programs serves as an incentive for school districts to actually adopt dual language programs. Without these additional funds for dual language programs, school districts have no monetary incentive to adopt DLI programs since they’re more costly and require more logistics. This extra money is necessary for the expansion of DLI programs because it encourages school districts to adopt the DLI program model over other forms of bilingual education.
Dual language Immersion programs are the future of bilingual education in America. In response to widespread demand from families and communities, states across the country, regardless of political ideology, have begun to increase their supply of these programs. As states begin to re-evaluate how they fund bilingual education and support their EL students, targeted dual language immersion program funding should be a part of the equation. By (1) funding non-ELs in DLI, (2) providing annual funding, and (3) prioritizing DLI programs, Texas has created a solid blueprint to serve as a foundation for funding these programs. Now it’s time for other states to follow their lead and expand on their own DLI program funding formulas.