For the first time in more than a decade, Michigan’s policymakers are poised to make historic investments in children who are learning English — and they should be lauded for their efforts.

But before we celebrate, we urge lawmakers to consider these new investments to be the beginning of a conversation on fair funding for English Learners, who have been left out of the conversation for decades, leading to devastating gaps in opportunities and outcomes.

Michigan ranks among the lowest in the nation in funding for English Learners.

Each day, our organizations work with families from all stages of life who are new to America. Some are in grave trauma, fleeing violence in their home countries. Others came to our country, against great odds, to escape deep poverty and joblessness. Others came to pursue a better life for their families. and the quintessential American dream.

But all have something in common: They desperately yearn for a good education for their children, so that they can become contributing members of their communities and find success in their lives.

Greatly improving funding for these students should not only be considered a moral decision but an economic one that has major implications for the health of Michigan.

Learners left behind

Let’s start with what we know about English Learners and their funding needs.

Many English Learners face challenges and opportunity gaps along their path in school — economic hardships, schools that are under-resourced, lack of certified teachers, low expectations and less rigor.

Structural issues like these impact educational outcomes. Indeed, English Learners have long been underserved nationwide, and the pandemic made worse these inequities.

Sadly, our state also has not been serving them well — either in school or in their communities. We know that it takes more funding to educate students who are learning English, while at the same time, trying to complete regular class work, often assigned in a language these students are still working to understand. These students include Latinos, Arab-Americans, African and Caribbean Islanders, Ukrainians and refugees from countries around the world.

On top of those challenges, state and national research shows us that Michigan has a regressive school funding formula. That means our state is spending much less than we know is needed to educate our children. And our state has been drastically underfunding students’ needs for more than two decades, aiding in the state’s academic decline.

For English Learners, the picture has been especially dire. Consider that current state law allocates just 1% to 11% additional funding for each English Learner, based on a child’s English language proficiency.

That’s drastically below what is recommended by research and is practiced in leading states. In fact, among 31 states with similar funding formulas, Michigan ranks 26th for our English Learner funding, according to the new analysis by The Education Trust-Midwest.

Compared to states like Maryland, which is phasing in a weight of 85% more, and Georgia which now allocates an astounding 160% more funding to English Learners, Michigan is missing the mark.

This piece appeared in the Detroit Free Press. Angela G. Reyes, MPH, is executive director of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation. Anisa Sahoubah is director of Youth and Education at ACCESS. Jose Luis Orozco, Jr. is executive director of Voces. Adnoris “Bo” Torres is a Latinx/è community advocate.