West Contra Costa schools to receive $1 million federal grant for English learners, immigrant students

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The West Contra Costa Unified School District is expecting to receive more than $1 million to assist English-as-a-second-language instruction for this current school year.

The state grant is part of a federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which allows each state to decide how to utilize federal funding to improve the quality of instruction and advance education equity.

California’s draft plan was signed and submitted to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) by Gov. Jerry Brown last month.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced earlier this month that plans submitted by 34 states and Puerto Rico were complete and ready for review. The District of Columbia and 16 states submitted their plans by the spring 2017 deadline.

The West Contra Costa School District will receive more than $131,000 for immigrant students, and about $920,000 for English learners upon federal approval, according to the ESSA funding data from the DOE. These grants may be accumulated beyond the original year of funding.

Veronica Aguila, state director of the English Learner Support Division, said the district will receive all of its funding as long as it creates a detailed plan on how to serve English learners and immigrant students. The district also must submit reports on expenditures and cash balances to the state.

The act, signed by President Obama in 2015, is the primary federal source of funding for K-12 education across the country. It places a greater responsibility on school districts to identify struggling students or schools compared to its controversial predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act.

According to the news release posted by the state board of education, California receives $2.6 billion in ESSA funds annually, amounting to 2.5 percent of the state’s total education budget.

West Contra Costa’s $1 million grant is determined by the U.S. Department of Education by applying a formula based on the number of English learners and immigrant students enrolled.
The district has about 1,600 immigrant students and almost 100,000 English learners enrolled in district-run schools, both rank highest in the county.

According to Lisa Jimenez, executive director of multilingual & multicultural service at the district, the final dollar amount that the district will receive is slightly under $1 million.

Jimenez said although the grant will primarily be spent on offering professional development for teachers regarding English language learners and improving language instruction through on-site coaching, the district won’t distribute the grant directly to individual school sites.

Instead, the money will first benefit professional development and coaching available to all teachers from different schools before targeting high-need schools with more English learners or immigrant students, according to Nia Rashidchi, associate superintendent of educational services.

“We are a district full of English learners that we must serve,” Rashidchi said. “Everybody gets some [coaching and professional services]. Some schools get more if they have higher needs based on data.”

Unlike district schools, charter schools are directly funded by the program. The 12 district charters are scheduled to receive more than $185,000 for fiscal year 2017-2018, but five of them will not get any funds.

Any school or local educational agency that has enrolled one or more English learners is eligible for the ESSA grant for English learners, though many schools in the state did not submit applications on time.

In order to be eligible for the grant for immigrant students, however, the schools must have 21 or more immigrant students. They also should have experienced a 2 percent or more growth in the enrollment of immigrant students in 2016 compared to the previous two years.

With the Trump administration announcing the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) last month, funds allocated to different districts from ESSA might shrink. According to Aguila, it all depends on the number of students that end up being deported, or leave a district.

Rashidchi also said that the impact that the repeal of DACA would have on the grant received by the district is still not clear at the moment.

“We have to look at the data as the next couple of years go by to actually see if our English learner population does take a dip,” Rashidchi said.

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