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Baltimore schools' proposed budget reflects growth in immigrant population

As more immigrant families move into Baltimore, the public school system plans to pump additional money into programs that help children learn English.

Schools CEO Sonja Santelises asked for $25 million dollars — 2% of the system’s operating dollars — to support students who speak English as a second language in her budget proposal released earlier this month. That’s up from $15 million just four years ago, reflecting just how rapidly this population of students has grown.

“Baltimore is experiencing growth in its immigrant population, and the number of City Schools students who speak a language other than English at home is also increasing,” budget documents read. “As is the case for students with disabilities, students who are learning English may require varying degrees of support.”

In fiscal year 2016, there were nearly 4,000 English learners in the city’s public school system. Next school year, district officials say they are estimating conservatively that 6,000 students will enroll. The annual growth has ranged recently from 8% to 15%.

The money pays for programming that helps non-native English speakers develop skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Teachers get support, too, as they work to help students adjust to the academic culture in American schools. Many schools with large immigrant populations also host workshops and events aimed at educating parents.

Serving English learners well is a priority for the district. While enrollment is declining in the public school system, the immigrant population is growing, helping to stem what could be even more dramatic losses. Roughly 7 percent of Baltimore students this year are English learners.

Maryland’s new school accountability system — which assigns star ratings to each school — also awards points to programs based on how well schools do in teaching English language learners.

By at least one measure, the district is making progress: The four-year graduation rate for English learners spiked last year to 51.2% from 41% in 2017.

Baltimore County is also rapidly adding immigrant students. Between just October and February of this school year, the county’s public school system enrolled 710 new students who spoke English as a second language — if at all.

In her budget, interim Superintendent Verletta White is seeking to money pay for 21 additional teachers for students whose first language is not English.

trichman@baltsun.com

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