English Learners and Immigration: A Case Study of Prince George's County, Maryland

Even while Maryland’s population has grown over the last decade, the number of students in the state’s public schools has declined. At the same time, the number of students in Maryland schools who are not proficient in English has more than doubled.

The rapid increase in students who struggle to comprehend and communicate in English is an unwelcome cost burden for Maryland taxpayers. Furthermore, the money spent to teach students basic English-language skills depletes the resources available to fund educational programs for the children of native-born Marylanders.

Immigration patterns in Maryland also add to the strain on local schools. The overwhelming majority of students who lack proficiency in English are enrolled in public schools in the Washington, D.C. metro area. This report examines the impact that non-English speaking students are having on Prince George’s County, where this population has grown by 96 percent just between 2004 and 2008 while overall student enrollment has decreased by almost 7 percent.

Prince George’s County has one-third of all English-language learner students in the state of Maryland, and more then one in ten students in the County’s public schools are not proficient in English. In its current school budget Prince George’s County has allocated a total of $60.2 million for the education of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students, though the total costs of these students is much higher. Based on the Prince George’s Board of Education’s budget for fiscal year 2010, the amount spent on LEP education could likely be over $300 million.

Not to be lost in the discussion of the dollar cost of LEP education is the impact that non-English speaking students have on the quality of education for the children of native-born Marylanders. While this is hard to quantify, it is a question that should not be ignored. Prince George’s County schools have consistently ranked at the bottom in state assessments of student performance and it is currently the only county that Maryland’s Department of Education has marked for “corrective action.” As the proportion of non-English speaking students continues to grow, Prince George’s County schools will find it increasingly more difficult to provide its students with a quality education.

Read the full report in pdf format.

November 2009