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Eager for English: How and Why New York's Shortage of English Classes Should be Addressed

Eager for English: How and Why New York's Shortage of English Classes Should be Addressed

Thursday, March 1, 2001



As the population of New York City becomes increasingly diverse, the knowledge of English becomes increasingly important in every facet of life. It is necessary to enable immigrants to become citizens, for immigrant parents to play an active role in their children’s education, for accessing and receiving quality health care, for moving from welfare to work, and for moving from low-skill jobs to higher-skill and higher-paying jobs. Clearly, to live the American dream, immigrants must learn English.

Immigrants also want to learn English. The New York Immigration Coalition’s member organizations consistently have identified the shortage of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes as one of the most critical needs of immigrant adults to address in their communities. In fact, many ESOL providers in the early- and mid-1990s reported that they held lotteries to decide who would attend their classes due to the overwhelming demand. Even today, lotteries are still held and libraries and other providers report needing to hire security guards to control crowds of eager immigrants hoping to enroll in ESOL classes.

Not only do immigrants need and want to learn English to succeed in America, native-born Americans want immigrants to learn English. Public policy polls on immigration find that one of the biggest concerns of native-born Americans is their perception that immigrants don’t want to learn English and don’t want to become “Americans.” Immigrants need and want to learn English and native-born Americans want immigrants to learn English. Yet in New York City, there are fewer ESOL classes today for immigrant adults than there were ten years ago, despite the fact that nearly a million more immigrants are living in New York City now than in 1990. This apparent mismatch between the desire for English classes and their lack of availability raises a number of important policy and funding questions.

For example, are the above assumptions wrong - do immigrants really want to learn English? If so, is the existing supply adequate to meet the demand, and do all immigrant groups have equal access to those classes that are offered? Has the voluntary sector -- community-based organizations and religious organizations -- filled in if there is a gap left by a shortage of government funding? Can we correctly project the current need for English classes, or what the need will be over the next five or ten years? And if the case is made that supply does not meet demand, what is needed to expand the supply of English classes, and are there barriers to participation in ESOL classes that policy makers have not addressed?

To answer these questions, the New York Immigration Coalition, with funding from the Fund for New Citizens at the New York Community Trust, commissioned a study to assess the need for ESOL classes and conducted a companion survey to look at immigrants’ perspectives on ESOL instruction. The first study, “English Proficiency/Economic Progress: The Need for and Impact of English Language and Literacy Training Among New York City’s Immigrants” was prepared by Appleseed, Inc., a private research firm. This study assessed how the growth of New York’s immigrant population and the changing composition of the population affects the need for ESOL instruction, the capacity of ESOL providers to meet this need, and the impact that an increase in the English proficiency of a substantial portion of New York’s immigrant population would have on the City’s economy.
The second study, “Characteristics, Goals and Enrollment Preferences of Immigrants in Need of English Language Instruction,” was prepared by the New York Immigration Coalition with assistance from a survey expert, Jeffrey Barnes, and from neighborhood organizations that helped us conduct the survey in diverse immigrant communities. This study was based on a survey of over 500 limited-English-proficient immigrants in New York City and examined the characteristics and demand for English language instruction among different immigrant groups, the goals immigrants have for learning English, and the barriers faced by immigrants in accessing ESOL classes.
Together, the two studies present a comprehensive picture of how the current supply of English classes in New York City has failed to meet the growing need and demand for ESOL instruction and why it is important to the future of New York City to address this need. In the next section, we will present the key findings from the two studies.

Summary of Study #1:
“English Proficiency/Economic Progress: The Need for and Impact of English Language and Literacy Training Among New York City’s Immigrants.”

The Need for English Language Training

  • The 1990 Census found that nearly 25 percent of foreign-born New Yorkers or nearly a half million people reported that they did not speak English well or at all.
  • Since 1990, high levels of immigration, combined with an out-migration of native-born New Yorkers, have significantly increased the proportion of New York’s population that is foreign-born. From 1990 to 1998, the foreign-born population increased from 2.1 million to 2.8 million, or from 28 percent to 38 percent of New York’s 7.3 million residents.
  • Immigration from English-speaking countries declined in the 1990s and New York experienced increased levels of immigration from the Dominican Republic and other Spanish-speaking countries, as well as from the former Soviet Union and China.
  • The changes that have occurred in the composition of the City’s immigrant population since 1990 indicate that the percentage of all foreign-born adults who are not proficient in English has increased substantially since 1990.
  • A detailed, extensive survey of adult New Yorkers conducted in 1992 suggests that the Census data may understate the lack of basic English language and literacy skills among the state’s foreign-born residents.
  • Taking these factors into account, we estimate that more than 1 million immigrant New Yorkers currently do not speak English, or do not speak it well.
  • Given current trends, we estimate that, in the absence of a significant increase in the number of people receiving English language and literacy training, the number of adult New Yorkers who are not proficient in English will increase over the next ten years by approximately 250,000.

The Supply of Services

  • New Yorkers have access to a wide variety of public, non-profit, for-profit and community-based programs that provide English language training.
  • The largest network of services is that funded through the New York City Adult Literacy Initiative (NYCALI), a program funded jointly by New York City and New York State (and that includes federal Adult Education funds that flow through the state).
  • The availability of ESOL classes through NYCALI has fluctuated widely throughout the 1990s. Despite recent increases, there were fewer students enrolled in NYCALI-funded ESOL classes in 1998-1999, than in 1990-1991. Over 29,000 students were in ESOL classes in 1990-1991. By 1995-1996, primarily due to reduced funding and increased costs, enrollment in ESOL classes had dropped to less than 20,000. Between 1996 and 1999, the number of students enrolled in NYCALI-funded ESOL classes grew to over 26,000, an increase of 34 percent, but still well below 1990-1991 levels.
  • More than half of all NYCALI ESOL students were enrolled in classes offered by the Board of Education, and more than a quarter in community-based programs funded through the Department of Youth and Community Development. Other NYCALI ESOL students were enrolled in classes at the City University of New York (16 percent) and in public libraries (5 percent).
  • English language training is available at hundreds of locations throughout the City. There are, however, several neighborhoods with large and growing immigrant populations – such as Brighton Beach, Jackson Heights, Flushing and Ridgewood – with a relatively limited supply of publicly funded services.
  • More than half of all NYCALI ESOL classes are offered during evening hours, with day classes making up the vast majority of the remaining ESOL classes. Only 6 percent of NYCALI ESOL classes are provided on weekends.
  • Hours of instruction provided to each student vary greatly across programs. In 1998-99, participants in NYCALI-funded programs averaged 115 hours of classroom time per course – ranging, for example, from about 6 hours per week for 19 weeks to 13 hours per week for 9 weeks.
  • A comparison of the distribution of people needing ESOL services and the distribution of people receiving ESOL services through NYCALI providers shows that immigrants from Mexico, Central America, China, Korea and the countries of the former Soviet Union have not been accessing English language instruction in numbers that are proportionate to their share of the estimated need.
  • Because of the diversity in funding sources, and the lack of consistent reporting requirements, the total number of participants in ESOL classes cannot easily be determined. However, with over 26,000 students enrolled in programs funded through the New York City Adult Literacy Initiative, more than 5,000 in other union-sponsored programs, and more than 4,000 in college-based intensive English programs, we can estimate that during 1998-99 at least 50,000 people studied English for Speakers of Other Languages, and thousands of other immigrants worked to improve their reading and writing skills in Basic Education classes.
  • Providers of publicly funded English language training consistently report that the demand for their services exceeds their capacity. They use a variety of tactics to constrain demand, such as not advertising their classes and limiting enrollment to one or a few days per year.

The Economic Impact of English Language Proficiency

  • A growing body of research has documented the importance of “human capital” as a determining factor in the economic growth of cities and regions.
  • Recent research further suggests that increasing a worker’s English-language proficiency by one level has roughly the same impact on productivity and earnings as an additional year of education.
  • Based on such research, we estimate that if New York City could increase the English proficiency of 10 percent of its adult population (550,000 people) by one level over the next ten years, it would generate a recurring increase of 0.25 percent in gross city product. This would translate into an increase in the City’s total economic output of more than $900 million per year.
  • The increased tax revenues and reduced social spending associated with a $900 million increase in economic output would result in a financial gain to New York City and New York State of approximately $115 million per year by 2010, in 1999 dollars.
  • We estimate that increasing the English language proficiency of 550,000 adults by one level over a ten-year period would require an annual investment of approximately $66 million.
  • Based on these estimates of the cost of increased English proficiency and the resulting fiscal benefit, an investment of an additional $66 million per year over the next ten years would produce an internal rate of return of 11.1 percent. Increased spending on English language and literacy training will literally make money for the City and the State.
Summary of Study #2:
“Characteristics, Goals and Enrollment Preferences of Those in Need of English Language Instruction.”

This study examines a sample of the limited-English-proficient segment of New York City’s population to identify the characteristics, goals and enrollment preferences of potential ESOL students. The sample was composed of 565 immigrants from diverse backgrounds and communities who indicated that they were not proficient in English. Surveys were conducted in a wide range of immigrant communities across New York City. The sample contained respondents from 32 different countries of origin. Respondents spoke 13 languages and ranged in age from 18 to 90 years old. Almost three-quarters of the sample spoke Spanish, Russian or Chinese. Sixty percent of respondents were living with a spouse or partner. Forty-two percent of respondents were caring for children under 18 years of age. A substantial portion of these limited-English-proficient New Yorkers had lived in the U.S. for many years.

Key Findings

Desire to Learn English

  • The survey found that the overwhelming majority -- 89 percent -- of immigrants surveyed currently were taking an ESOL class, on a waiting list or wanted to enroll in ESOL classes sometime in the future.
  • The survey found consistently high demand among immigrants for ESOL instruction. We found no significant difference on any measure of desire for English instruction among immigrants from different countries of origin, or among immigrants who had received some ESOL instruction, or among immigrants who had been in the U.S. for approximately 10 years or less.

Reasons for Learning English

  • Eighty-five percent of respondents said that they had “personal, career or citizenship goals that would be easier to achieve” if they were “better able to speak or read English.” The two goals cited most frequently by respondents for seeking ESOL instruction were to advance professionally or to better communicate with English-speaking people.
  • Fifty-eight percent of respondents indicated that, to achieve their goals, they would need an intermediate or advanced level of instruction. Forty-two percent indicated that they would need a beginning level of instruction.

Barriers to Enrollment in ESOL Classes

  • Respondents’ stated level of interest in ESOL classes was high, strongly indicating that lack of interest was not a barrier to ESOL enrollment. Eighty-nine percent of respondents were either taking a class, on a waiting list or wanted to attend English classes at some time in the future.
  • Transportation and class location were among the greatest barriers to ESOL enrollment. Eighty-five percent of respondents said that they would be more likely to try to enroll if classes were “very near” their home. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said that they would be more likely to enroll if classes were nearer to subway stops. These findings strongly suggest that initiatives that locate ESOL instruction even closer to students’ homes or in highly accessible locations would be an important component of any strategy for ensuring broad access to services.
  • The data also suggest a shortage of weekend and, particularly, weeknight classes. Fifty-eight percent of respondents indicated that they would be more likely to enroll if classes were available at night. Forty-eight percent indicated that they would be more likely to enroll if classes were held on weeknights. Both figures are considerably higher than the proportion of respondents that would be encouraged to enroll by more daytime classes (35 percent).

ESOL Location Preferences

  • The type of facility that houses English classes did not matter to most respondents. Only seven percent of respondents could identify a type of facility in which they “wouldn’t be comfortable or wouldn’t want to attend class.”
  • When asked to name types of facilities that they thought were best for English classes, 60 percent of respondents said that they had no preference. The most commonly mentioned facility types for those with a preference were community centers/community-based organizations (26 percent) and public schools (21 percent). Fourteen percent of respondents mentioned churches, mosques or synagogues. Eleven percent mentioned libraries.

Desired Number of Hours of ESOL Instruction

  • The vast majority of the sample (85 percent) preferred to be in class less than three hours per day. Responses varied concerning the number of days, but almost all respondents (95 percent) preferred to have at least two days per week without instruction, with the majority wanting to attend three or four days per week.

Factors Affecting Attendance or Gains in English Proficiency

  • Fifty-four percent of our sample (309 respondents) had attended an ESOL class in the past. These respondents were asked to identify problems that “made it difficult ... to attend or do well in class.” Eighty-seven percent of those who answered this question identified one or more difficulties.
  • The difficulty most often cited by respondents was a conflicting work schedule (40 percent). Thirty-five percent indicated that they needed help outside of class. Affordability and transportation were both cited by about one-fifth of respondents.

The two studies clearly document the fact that there is a significant shortage of ESOL instruction as compared to both the need and demand. We found that currently, more than one million New York City residents are not proficient in English, almost 90 percent want to learn English, and yet in 1999, only about 50,000 people were receiving instruction. Incredibly, as immigration into New York City soared in the 1990s, government-funded ESOL classes actually declined. The foreign-born population increased from 28 percent in 1990 to 38 percent in 1998, or from 2.1 million to 2.8 million, but there are fewer ESOL classes now than in 1990. This section will focus on what needs to be done to address this growing need.

Expanding the Supply of English Classes in New York

Before providing our budget and policy recommendations for meeting the enormous need for English classes documented in Appleseed’s research, it is important to review the mechanisms and funding streams already in place at the various levels of government to provide ESOL classes. As previously cited, the availability of ESOL classes through NYCALI has fluctuated widely throughout the 1990s. Despite recent increases, there were fewer students enrolled in NYCALI-funded ESOL classes in 1998-1999 than in 1990-1991. Over 29,000 students were in ESOL classes in 1990-1991. By 1995-1996, enrollment in ESOL classes had dropped to less than 20,000 due to cost increases and reductions in city and state funding. Between 1996 and 1999, the number of students enrolled in NYCALI-funded ESOL classes grew to over 26,000, an increase of 34 percent, but still well below 1990-1991 levels.

Funding for ESOL classes through NYCALI comes from each level of government. Federal funding comes primarily from the Adult Education Act (now called Title 2 of the Workforce Investment Act), state funding through Employment Preparation Education (EPE) Aid and Adult Literacy Education funding, and city funding through tax levy funds for the Mayor’s Office of Adult Literacy.

Broadly speaking, during the 1990s state and city funding for adult education remained relatively flat and federal funding increased significantly, particularly from 1997-2000. The availability of NYCALI ESOL classes during the decade mirrored the availability of funding. Slight decreases in funding in the early 1990s, combined with increased operating costs, resulted in a significant reduction in NYCALI classes in the early and mid 1990s. Increased federal funding in recent years has allowed for an increase in ESOL classes; however, there are fewer classes available now than there were in 1990. In other words, as the need for ESOL instruction grew in the 1990s in New York City due to high immigration levels, not only did the supply of ESOL instruction not keep pace with the increased need, but there was an actual reduction in ESOL instruction availability.

The following sections examine in greater detail federal, state and city responses to the need for ESOL instruction during the past decade.

Federal Funding
Federal funding under the Adult Education Act provides states with funds for adult basic education and adult secondary education programs and ESOL programs. Funding under the Adult Education Act has increased significantly in the 1990s: from 1992 to 2000, adult education funding grew by 49%, from approximately $220 million to $416 million. New York State’s share of this funding grew proportionally: from $14.7 million in FY 1992 to $29.5 million in FY 2000. New York City receives 51% of this amount, based on a state formula reflecting “undereducated” -- generally, adults without a high school diploma -- adults across the state. Neither the federal nor state allocation formulas reflect the ESOL needs of adults who have completed the equivalent of high school. In other words, if an immigrant has graduated from high school either in the U.S. or in their native country, but is not proficient in English, they are not included in either the federal or state formula for allocating funding. If the allocation formulas reflected ESOL needs, then New York State’s allocation of federal Adult Education Act funding would be higher, and New York City’s allocation of the state’s allocation would also increase.

The federal adult education funds go to the state, and New York City’s allocation is included in NYCALI funding. In 1998, approximately half of students in NYCALI-funded classes were ESOL students, a slightly smaller percentage than in 1991 when nearly 54 percent of students were in ESOL classes. On a national basis, while enrollment in Adult Basic Education and Adult Secondary Education dropped by 9 and 28 percent respectively, between 1994 and 1998 enrollment in ESOL grew by 58 percent. Thus, nationally, while ESOL students made up only 17 percent of all adult education enrollees in 1980, they represented 48 percent in 1998. Over the past ten years, the federal Department of Education reports that enrollment nationally in English language instruction has increased by 105 percent. Strikingly, while the rest of the nation has more than doubled English language instruction during the 1990s, enrollment in New York City has declined, both in the percentage and number of NYCALI students receiving ESOL instruction.

In addition to this increased spending under the federal adult education program, the growing demand for English instruction led the Clinton Administration to propose a separate $75 million English language and civics initiative in the FY 2000 budget, and Congress appropriated $25 million for this initiative. New York State has received nearly $4 million of these funds. The FY 2001 federal budget increased funding for this initiative to $70 million, with New York State’s share expected to be about $10 million.

State Funding
State funding for ESOL and adult literacy is provided to New York City from three primary sources, Employment Preparation Education (EPE) Aid, Adult Literacy Education funds and through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

A. Employment Preparation Education Aid
State funding through the Employment Preparation Education (EPE) Aid program has remained at $96 million for the past four years and New York City draws down approximately $28 million or about 29 percent of the state allocation. This amount is projected to decrease to $22 million in the City’s 2001 financial plan. EPE funds (with the exception of a $9.5 million set-aside for union workers through the Consortium for Worker Education) can only be used for adult education through the school system. In addition, EPE funding, until this year, was limited to providing classes to students over 21 years of age without a high school education. This year, for the first time, a small portion of EPE funds, $2.5 million, can be used for educating adults with a high school degree but who fail to demonstrate basic educational competencies, including English proficiency.

It is important to note that while New York City receives 51 percent of available funds under the state allocation formula for federal Adult Education Act funds, the City receives significantly less -- only 29 percent -- under EPE. New York City is not constrained by state law from drawing down a higher percentage of EPE funds. The major factor in why the City does not use more EPE funding is that the full cost of adult education classes in New York City is not covered by the EPE aid formula. The EPE formula reflects the alleged “wealth” of school districts and consequently covers fully the cost of ESOL and other adult education classes in most other parts of the state, since these areas are deemed less wealthy than New York City.

Currently, New York City uses approximately $3 million of the $13 million in city tax levy funds provided to the Mayor’s Office of Adult Literacy to make up the additional costs not covered by EPE funding. This problem will be exacerbated due to a recent agreement to pay ESOL teachers in adult education classes provided through the Board of Education the same salaries as other teachers in the public school system.

B. Adult Literacy Education
The only state funding for ESOL and literacy services available to community-based agencies is that provided for Adult Literacy Education, a program that has been funded at $3.3 million for the past four years. Community-based organizations must compete for these funds with literacy volunteer organizations, colleges and libraries. New York City receives 51 percent of these funds, which are then incorporated into NYCALI funding.

C. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Prior to the 1996 and 1997 federal and state welfare reform laws, thousands of welfare recipients who were not proficient in English received ESOL classes as an allowable activity under federal welfare laws. The 1996 federal law and subsequent TANF rules clarify that states can include ESOL as an allowable work activity for the purposes of calculating their work participation rates. New York State’s 1997 welfare law retained educational activities as allowable activities, but required employment or work experience participation to meet work participation rates. Due to the significant reduction in New York’s TANF caseload, New York City easily meets the required participation rates and has the ability, if it chooses, to assign welfare recipients who are not proficient in English to ESOL classes. However, New York City’s current policy under the BEGIN program (the City’s major welfare-to-work program) is to require TANF recipients to participate in work experience for three days (21 hours) and then permit recipients (upon request) to receive one to two days of educational activities, including ESOL, from certain approved providers. This policy is administratively simple but it is not sound education policy. One or two full days of ESOL per week is not considered the optimal way of learning English -- fewer hours for more days is generally considered a much more effective approach.

While New York City has not made public the number of welfare recipients receiving ESOL instruction, it is certainly at a much lower level now than prior to the 1996 and 1997 welfare reform laws. Adult education, including ESOL instruction, continues to be provided under the Education for Gainful Employment (EDGE) program, a state-funded welfare initiative designed to integrate educational activities and employment services. Providers under the EDGE program have much greater flexibility in meeting participation requirements using education/ESOL as an allowable activity than those under the BEGIN program. Approximately $16 million is spent on the EDGE program statewide, but data on the number of recipients receiving ESOL instruction were not available.

In addition, New York State has appropriated a total of $8 million in TANF funds in SFY 2000-2001 to provide ESOL classes to adults in families with incomes of less than 200 percent of the poverty level. New York City is expected to receive 70 percent of these funds, reflecting its percentage of welfare recipients in the state. Immigrants who have arrived since August 1996 and undocumented immigrants will not be eligible for classes supported under this funding stream. Community-based ESOL providers have significant concerns with how programs will verify the eligibility of students, given the immigrant restrictions attached to the funding.

New York City Funding
For each of the past seven years, New York City has contributed $13 million in tax levy funds to NYCALI, which then funds ESOL and basic education instruction at CUNY, libraries and at community-based organizations. These funds are also used to supplement EPE funds for adult education programs through the Board of Education. Not surprisingly, operating costs for adult education programs have risen over the past seven years. These rising costs, along with the lack of increase in city (and state) funding, are the primary reasons why, despite a doubling of federal adult education funds, there are fewer ESOL classes in New York City today than there were in 1990.

In summary, funding for ESOL instruction in New York City has been a shared responsibility among the federal, state and local governments, with no level of government having a clear mandate or responsibility to ensure that ESOL instructional needs are met. To meet the enormous need for ESOL instruction, each level of government must do more. The following section includes specific budget recommendations to address the need to provide ESOL instruction to approximately one million New Yorkers over the next five years.


As discussed previously, government funding currently provides approximately 50,000 seats in ESOL classes in New York City on an annual basis to meet the needs of one million New Yorkers who are in need of ESOL instruction. Our survey found that 90 percent of New Yorkers who spoke little or no English wanted to enroll in ESOL classes. We also found that the continued inflow of immigrants will increase the number of City residents needing ESOL instruction by about 25,000 a year. Consequently, over the next five years, over one million New Yorkers can be expected to have the need and desire to enroll in ESOL classes.

Clearly, this enormous level of need cannot be met immediately. However, we believe a strategy to increase ESOL instruction by 50,000 seats each year, for the next five years, is a reasonable and attainable goal if viewed as a shared responsibility among the three levels of government. Expanding ESOL slots by 50,000 each year for the next five years would require an additional investment of approximately $40 million each year. (Costs will vary by provider type, number of hours, etc.; this estimate is based on inflating the estimated annual cost per student in a NYCALI program in 1998 of $670.) Given that the federal government controls immigration policy and that New York and New Yorkers contribute far more in taxes than they receive in federal assistance, we believe it is appropriate to seek half, or $20 million, of the necessary additional annual funding from the federal government, with the state and city each contributing a quarter of the funding, or $10 million each. While this is obviously a significant commitment of additional resources, the benefits from an economic development perspective will more than offset the additional costs, as Appleseed’s analysis has demonstrated.

  • The NYIC recommends that federal funding for ESOL instruction in New York City be increased by $20 million each of the next five years through increased funding in the Adult Education Act and the ESOL/Civics initiative. In the FFY 2001 budget, federal funding for ESOL/Civics was increased significantly from the FFY 2000 level of $22 million to $70 million. New York State’s share of this funding increased from $3.9 million to over $10 million. Funding under both of these initiatives should be increased dramatically over the next decade, to meet the demonstrated need for an expansion of English classes in New York and in other parts of the country with a large number of adults who require such instruction. While federal funding has increased for adult education in recent years, it still provides New York State with only $30 million to meet the needs of as many as 4 million New Yorkers who lack basic literacy skills. Furthermore, the allocation formula to states should include in its calculation adults who are not proficient in English, even if they have attained the equivalent of a high school education.
  • State funding should also be increased by at least $10 million annually to reflect the changing demographics in New York City and the rest of the state. The Adult Literacy Education Program has been funded at an annual appropriation of $3.3 million for at least the last 5 years. This should be increased to $10 million in SFY 2001, with similar increases for the next four years. Since Congress must reauthorize TANF funding in 2002, it is unclear if TANF funds are a practical source for meeting the need for ESOL instruction beyond SFY 2001. Moreover, use of TANF funds to expand ESOL has limited utility for recent legal immigrants who are barred from TANF-funded programs

    In addition, we recommend that a number of changes be made in the EPE program to enable New York City to receive a “fair share” of EPE funding. First, we recommend that total EPE funding be increased significantly, so that if New York City receives a fair share, other counties do not lose funding. Second, the EPE aid formulas should be changed so that a greater portion of program costs in New York City and other high-cost areas are covered by EPE. Third, we recommend that EPE funding be made available to not-for-profit agencies, such as community-based organizations, CUNY and libraries. EPE funds currently are provided directly to the not-for-profit organization Consortium for Worker Education. This recommendation would build upon that successful model and open up EPE funding to new providers.


  • City funding should be increased to reflect the changing demographics and needs of its residents. City funding for ESOL classes has remained at the same level -- $13 million annually -- for the past seven years, despite a doubling of the number of New York residents who are not proficient in English in the last decade. City funding should be increased by at least $10 million annually to meet the need for ESOL instruction.

Increased funding for ESOL instruction clearly is the most critical factor in expanding the supply of classes. However, the Appleseed analysis and the NYIC companion survey identified a number of ESOL program issues that need to be addressed to ensure that all immigrants in New York City have equal access to ESOL instruction. Following are our recommendations to address the barriers to access that the two reports uncovered.

  • Expand ESOL classes in communities with growing immigrant populations. In addition, target expansions in communities with underserved immigrant groups. Our study found that immigrants needing and wanting ESOL classes are more likely to attend classes when they are available near their homes, or close to subway stops. Our analysis of the supply of English classes found a preponderance of classes in Manhattan and many underserved communities, particularly in Brooklyn and Queens. (However, ESOL classes in Manhattan are in high demand and are usually oversubscribed, and so there is a need to continue and expand those programs as well.) In particular, immigrants from Mexico, Central America, China, Korea and the countries of the former Soviet Union were not accessing English classes in proportion to their need.
  • Provide more ESOL classes on weekends and weeknights. Our survey found that 58 percent of respondents indicated that they would be more likely to enroll if classes were available at night. Forty-eight percent indicated that they would be more likely to enroll if classes were held on weekends. Both figures are considerably higher than the proportion of respondents who would be encouraged to enroll if there were more daytime classes (35 percent).
  • Ensure that ESOL classes meet the diverse needs of the immigrant population. While nearly two-thirds of respondents wanted to learn English to improve their employment prospects, immigrants also wanted to enroll in English classes so they could improve their communication with English speakers, to better communicate with their children’s teachers and to become U.S. citizens. Furthermore, many immigrants lack basic literacy skills in their native language and require instruction in Basic Education in the Native Language (BENL) before they are able to attend ESOL classes. BENL classes have been cut back at a time when they should be expanded. At the other end of the spectrum, immigrants who have achieved low levels of English proficiency, but who need and want greater proficiency, are not able to access ESOL instruction at an intermediate level since more and more ESOL instruction is targeted to those at the lowest levels. Last, recent welfare policies often reduce the access of limited-English-proficient recipients to ESOL instruction when such instruction may be essential in helping these individuals obtain the skills for long-term employment. Special attempts to address diverse needs such as these should be made as instruction programs are developed and expanded in coming years.

Over the last two decades, the English language acquisition needs of New York’s immigrant residents have been largely neglected, despite the desire of immigrants to learn English and the desire of native-born residents to have immigrants learn English and become full participants in mainstream society. Our studies document the need for and the importance of helping immigrants to become proficient in English, as well as the benefits that a major new investment in ESOL instruction would have on New York City - the capital of the global economy. We have also documented the great desire of the newest New Yorkers to learn English, and identified a set of budget and policy measures that must be implemented in order to meet this demand.

The results of the 2000 Census will vividly illustrate how essential a role immigrants play in the economic and social life of New York and the rest of the nation. Policymakers at all levels of government are faced with serious issues and important choices in light of the demographic changes in recent decades. Among the most immediate of these is the dramatic mismatch between the need for English language instruction in immigrant communities and the inadequacy of current policies and shortage of programs to meet this need. Surely, the time has come to address this obvious need, and in doing so, more fully realize the potential of our extraordinarily diverse society.


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