DES MOINES, Iowa — The legislative session is in full swing, and on Saturday Des Moines Public Schools told lawmakers exactly what it would like to see accomplished.
A panel of lawmakers listened to the school district’s pitch for the 2019 legislative session at North High School. Teachers and parents were also on hand. At the top of the priority list is to increase the amount of funding for the district’s English Language Learners (ELL) program.
“For many of our families and students, they’re coming to Des Moines or have come to Des Moines in the past from countries that may have been war torn, they may be refugees. So, in addition to not speaking English, they also may have not been in a stable school environment. So, there are a lot of additional supports needed to not only teach someone the language they need to be successful in schools but also just getting them acclimated and their families to our community and to a new country,” said school board member Kyrstin Dela Gardelle Shelly.
The district says that the graduation rate of ELL students is about 83 percent, compared to 91 percent for native English speakers. They argue more resources are needed to close that gap. Des Moines ELL Director Pablo Ortega says it makes financial sense.
“The better job that we can do teaching them to be better at the English language…they’re going to get licensed, they’re going to have a better opportunity to get a trade. I think there is an economic output and economic resource that we’re not taking advantage of. I think that is the argument we should be making,” said Ortega.
The district is asking lawmakers for about a 40 percent weighted increase for ELL per-pupil funding. Separately, they are also asking lawmakers to extend the SAVE penny sales tax to 2050. The tax is slated to sunset in 2029, and the district says they are bonded out.
“If the SAVE doesn’t get extended we’ll have to cut back on the number of projects that we do over time, and some of the things we want to do like make things more equitable between neighborhood schools in terms of having the same level of auditoriums and number of classrooms to meet the need of the neighborhoods. Some of that might have to be put on hold which could mean a number of impacts on families in the neighborhood,” said Dela Gardelle Shelly.
There are senate bills moving through the State House addressing ELL funding and the SAVE sales tax. The district’s other goals are to expand preschool funding for children in poverty and change state per-pupil funding allocation based on need.
The panel of lawmakers was made up entirely of Democrats. Those representing the district say local Republican lawmakers were invited as well.