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30 different languages taxing for diverse East Moline schools

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The face of education in the Quad Cities is changing.

At the East Moline School District, for example, there are 30 languages spoken, and more than 500 students are learning English as a second language, in the district's five schools.

"Our top language is still Spanish with 283. Then we have Ewe at 57, Arabic is 44 students and French has 22," said East Moline School District English Language Learner (ELL) Director Rosalva Portillio.   The district has a total of 519 ELL students, and meeting the educational needs of those students presents unique challenges.

Specialized instructionELL class at Ridgewood Elementary in East Moline

The curriculum is taught exclusively in Spanish for first- and second-grade Spanish speakers at Ridgewood Elementary in East Moline.  Research indicates students are more successful when they master reading and writing in their native language before they learn English, according to East Moline School District Superintendent Kristin Humphries, so the younger students start out in a "self-contained classroom."

Illinois school districts are only legally required to teach students in their native language when there are at least 20 students, who speak that language, in an individual school, Humphries said. While there are more than 20 students who speak languages like Ewe and Arabic in his district, there are not enough students in any individual school to require ELL programs for those students.  ELL studens at Ridgewood ElementaryThe numbers are growing and more ELL teachers will likely be needed in the future, according to Humphries.

"I do see that, very soon, we will be offering primary language instruction for French and Arabic," Humphries said.

Reduced funding

If additional languages are added in the future, the East Moline School District will have a significant obstacle in its way: They'll have to find more money to hire additional ELL teachers.  Just over 60 percent of the district's budget comes from local taxes, Humphries said, and that amount is dropping.  The State of Illinois funds about 28 percent of the district's budget, but declining assessed valuations and the formula to establish state funding make it difficult to make concrete plans for that money.

East Moline School District's ELL program was budgeted to receive $233,000 from the state, but the district will likely only receive about $139,800 of that money, Humphries said.

"Our local funds are going down because or Equalized Assessed Valuation (EAV) in Rock Island County has dropped, and Springfield is sending less and less dollars to the schools," Humphries stated.

Funding frustration

At the beginning of 2015, Senator Andy Manar (D)-Bunker Hill, reintroduced the School Funding Reform Act of 2015, also known as Senate Bill 1, which would provide more than $500-million for the state's schools and restructure the way the state funds districts.  The bill's supporters seek to provide more state funding for poorer districts, and Humphries said the East Moline School District would greatly benefit from the bill.

A similar bill introduced by Manar in 2014 made it out of the Senate but died in the House.  Educators with the East Moline School District say the schools are changing, but Springfield is not.

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