Senate Bill Expands Support for Iowa ELL Students

A bill passed by the Iowa Senate today would provide much -needed additional support for English Language Learner (ELL) students, giving school districts greater options in helping students succeed in the classroom and in Iowa. The number of ELL students, including refugees from around the world, has grown significantly in Iowa over the years.

“As our state’s school districts, both large and small, teach an increasing number of ELL students it is critical educators have the tools to help them overcome language barriers. This will help them succeed as students in the classroom and as citizens in Iowa,” said Tom Ahart, Superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools. “Today’s action by the Senate is a big step forward in recognizing that some of our ELL students simply need more time and support.”

The bill, SF 404, would extend the weighted funding formula for ELL students from the current 4 years to a maximum of 7 years. School districts receive an additional 22 percent in state funds to support educational programs for ELL students. Under both the current and new law, additional funding for ELL ends when a student is found to be proficient in English.

The bill was approved by the Senate on a vote of 48-0, after being passed in the Senate Education Committee with no opposition

“The home languages spoken by students in Des Moines are literally A to Z – from Acoli to Zapotec – and it’s great that state leaders are taking steps to help ELL students here and across Iowa, especially the many recent refugees who are calling Iowa their new home,” added School Board member Joe Jongewaard.

Both Des Moines Public Schools as well as the state of Iowa has seen a five-fold increase in the number of ELL students over the past 20 years:

Des Moines Public Schools

State of Iowa










NOTE: Figures are from certified enrollment reports from the Iowa Department of Education

“Many of our new ELL students are refugees with little or no ability to read and write in their home language,” said Vinh Nguyen, ELL program supervisor for Des Moines Public Schools. “Most research shows that it can take up to seven years for a student to become proficient in a language if they begin with little or no literacy. While many of our students become proficient in four years or less, this bill is taking a research-based approach to providing support for those ELL students most in need.”

Organizations which support this bill (and the original bill, SF 266) include the Child & Family Policy Center, the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Iowa Catholic Conference, the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Iowa State Education Association, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the School Administrators of Iowa, and the Urban Education Network.