The Growth of Hispanic Students and English Learners Nationwide—in Charts

The demographics of public school students are changing rapidly, including in the South. That means school districts must find ways to meet the needs of an increasingly Hispanic and multilingual student body, researchers and advocates say.

In Alabama, for instance, the mostly Hispanic English-learner population grew from about 2.4 percent to about 5 percent in the last 10 years. In the Russellville school district in the northern part of the state, English learners now make up a quarter of the student population.

Nationally, English learners are one of the fastest-growing student populations. Yet advocates say state and federal policy and funding lag behind what’s needed to ensure these students’ linguistic and academic needs are met. That’s especially the case when it comes to sorting out best practices for older immigrant students who have less time to become proficient in English and meet graduation requirements.

A majority of the nation’s English learners are Hispanic, itself a fast-growing demographic within public schools.

To adapt to its growing Hispanic and English-learner population, the Russellville district used federal pandemic relief funding to hire bilingual instructional aides beginning in 2021. Working primarily with students in grades K through 2, the aides—in tandem with general classroom teachers and English-as-a-second-language teachers—have produced results. With the added support, more of these young students have been reaching their language proficiency goals.

But since the funding for these aides will dry out in May 2024, districts like Russellville face challenges to sustain initiatives that work for English learners—both young and older.

To learn more about how this Alabama town is adapting to growing student needs, read our newly published series.

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