A new bill proposed by nine Connecticut state representatives and state senators would increase state funding for educating English language learners, who require special attention especially during the pandemic.
New Haven Public Schools have struggled to support English language learners adapting to virtual learning, as it is difficult for ELL students to adapt to unfamiliar technology and virtual learning environments. The proposed S.B. 715 — sponsored by Sen. Martin Looney, Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, Rep. Toni Edmonds Walker, Rep. Robyn Porter, Rep. Juan Candelaria, Rep. Roland Lemar and Rep. Al Paolillo — is the latest step in the district’s efforts to support these students. The bill has been referred to the CGA’s Joint Committee on Education. Now, the committee and the two chambers of the CGA need to vote on the bill before Gov. Ned Lamont can sign it.
The bill aims to both increase funding for bilingual education programs and change the formula that determines how much aid a city receives by placing more weight on ELL programs. S.B. 715 is brief — less than 100 words and only a quarter of a page long — and does not specify how the funding formula or aid for ELL programs would change. Still, New Haven educators and community members told the News that they believe the additional funding could positively impact the Elm City in many ways.
David Weinreb, a teacher at Elm City Montessori, works with ELL students. According to him, funding for ELL programs could be put toward an “endless” list of causes.
“When I dream about how funding could impact ELLs and their families, I think about the bigger picture stuff — how do we drive more teachers to become bilingual certified, so we have more staffing?” Weinreb said. “Are we able to hire more part-time tutors for some of the students whose languages are not some of the dominant ones?”
Daniel Diaz chairs New Haven’s ARTE — an organization meant to “create positive change for the Latino community,” according to its website. Diaz also serves as the NHPS Coordinator of Parent Engagement, and he said the funding could be invaluable for students and their families alike.
Families, Diaz said, often need English learning support just like their children.
“In order for students to be successful, we need to support families so they can support students,” Diaz told the News. “We have families who come from many many different countries with different backgrounds, academically and economically. There should be money to support family engagement, technology support and English language support for them.”
Additional government funds for ELL programs are only part of the support ELL students need. Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services Director of Communications Ann O’Brien told the News that support for nonprofits like IRIS are just as important to uplift ELL students.
“The more they can help IRIS, volunteering or donating … the more that we can help the public school systems,” said O’Brien. “If [New Haven residents] help non-for-profits like us, we can take some of the burden off of public schools.”
O’Brien said that IRIS is one of many organizations that provide support services for ELL students. She noted that IRIS has a number of volunteers who help these students navigate their laptop, address internet connectivity issues, fill out FAFSA forms and provide weekly activity packages to supplement their in-school learning. O’Brien added that the group frequently helps teachers who are currently adjusting to teaching ELL students on virtual platforms during the pandemic.
The proposed ELL bill comes among a slew of other bills discussed in the Connecticut General Assembly’s Jan. 6 session. The other bills’ concerns include expanded affordable housing, the elimination of solitary confinement in prisons and the phasing out of school resource officers in public schools. On Wednesday and Thursday alone, CGA committees will be discussing over 60 bills.
New Haven-area Senators Looney and Winfield did not respond to a request for comment about S.B. 715.
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