Drop in Berkeley’s Immigrant Students Leads to Loss of Federal Funds

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Saturday May 23, 2009 - 12:13:00 PM

A significant drop in the number of immigrant students in the Berkeley Unified School District has resulted in the loss of federal funding for some services and programs meant to help them.  

The district’s 2008-09 Student National Origin Report (SNOR) shows that the district did not have the annual immigrant student growth rate required by the federal No Child Left Behind act to guarantee them funding for the 2010-11 school year.  

The state Department of Education uses the SNOR to determine the annual count of eligible immigrant students—foreign-born K-12 pupils who have been enrolled in a school in the United States for three years or less—as required by Title III of No Child Left Behind.  

Title III money funds immigrant education programs, including basic instructional services, family literacy, parent outreach, and tutoring, mentoring and counseling.  

The state education department receives a grant from the federal Department of Education based on the number of qualified immigrant students enrolled in California and allocates the money to school districts which show a significant growth in immigrant enrollment.  

Data from the 2008-09 SNOR will be used to determine whether school districts statewide can receive funding for subsequent years, starting with 2010-11.  

Berkeley Unified reported a total of 380 immigrant students for the current school year, a decrease of almost 100 students from a year ago.  

The district reported 403 students in 2006-07. That number went up to 469 in 2007-2008, but then dropped again in 2008-09, showing a decrease from the numbers reported in the last two years. A district must show 5 percent growth in the total number of immigrant students over the average of the two previous school years.  

“The numbers are significantly down this year and we won’t get funding in 2010-11,” said district Assistant Superintendent Neil Smith while presenting the report at an April 29 school board meeting.  

The decline will result in a decrease of about $40,000 for 2010-11.  

When Berkeley Board of Education Director John Selawsky asked Smith if the drop indicated a trend in the district, Smith said that it did not. Smith said the loss of funds would affect the district’s English language learner program.  

Selaswky later told the Daily Planet that he would like to investigate the trend in immigrant enrollment for the last five to 10 years.  

“The numbers are all over the place,” he said. “They went up last year and went down this year, so I couldn’t see a trend in the last three years. I am curious if there is a trend and what it is.” Selawsky said that although the amount of money lost was not huge, any reduction in district funds, especially during the current state budget crisis, was problematic.  

“It’s not that much money—it’s only a part of the total funding we receive for immigrant students,” he said. “It’s not going to make that kind of impact, but if it does I hope we have a plan in place for the reduction.”  

Selawsky said it is hard to pinpoint exactly why the district's immigrant enrollment dropped.  

“It could be an anomaly or maybe it’s the economy,” he said. “The job market is bad right now and people want to stay where they are instead of moving to a new place.”  

Monte Blair, an education programs consultant in the state Department of Education’s Language Policy and Leadership Office, said Berkeley Unified was not the only district losing funding due to a shrinking immigrant population.  

Blair said large districts like Los Angeles Unified did not get funding this year because they did not show growth either.  

Troy Flint, spokesperson for Oakland Unified School District, which has 44,000 students compared to Berkeley Unified’s 9,000, said he was not aware of a drastic decline in immigrant students in his district. “There are cycles of immigration,” said Carmelita Reyes, principal at Oakland International High School. Reyes said that previously Oakland had seen a large number of immigrants coming from Vietnam and Cambodia, but that right now there was an influx of people from Latin America.  

“People come here from other countries depending on what’s going on in their country,” she said. “When America was booming, people wanted to come here, but that’s not the case right now.”  

Last year, Reyes said, her school also got a lot of refugees from Burma, whereas this year the school has a lot of students from Nepal.  

Berkeley’s report shows that the district drew students from 71 countries. The largest number of immigrant students come from Mexico (69), followed by China (24), Germany (21), Nepal (19), Morocco (19), Norway (16) and India (15).