Many Iowa schools need ESL funding, but not Ottumwa

Despite a growth in state funding, many Iowa school districts are seeking more help to cover the costs of teaching non-English speaking students.

The state's funding has grown by 40 percent, but several districts say that is not enough. That is not the case in Ottumwa, however.

The school district currently has a Hispanic population of around 10 percent, but only 250 students require extra language lessons. That is about 100 less than English as a second language, or ESL, students ten years ago.

The effective teaching model the district has in place is the cause. ESL students in Ottumwa spend as much time as possible in normal classes, and are only pulled out for special classes when needed.

"Our model is working and we've learned that the more time we spend with them early on, the faster they acquire the language and therefore, they do not need the extra support," Ottumwa Superintendent Dr. Davis Eidahl said.

Proficiency is the proof. On the secondary level, proficiency has grown from two percent to 20 percent in ESL students. On the elementary level, that number has gone from 20 percent to almost 50 percent.

The ESL teaching model in Ottumwa has been in place for around ten years, and Eidahl sees no reason to change it. In fact, he does not see any foreseeable problems with ESL funding in the near future.

"The only thing is, because families are staying [in the area], there could be a possibility in the next five, six, seven years that the funding would fall a little short, but as of now, we're in pretty good shape." Eidahl said.

Currently, Iowa school districts get .2 percent of regular student funding costs for ESL programs.