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Unexpected jump in English language learners prompts IPS to hire more teachers

Indianapolis Public Schools newcomer school.
Indianapolis Public Schools newcomer school.
Dylan Peers McCoy / Chalkbeat

Indianapolis Public Schools is experiencing a surprise jump in the number of English language learners this school year, despite slowing growth in the U.S. immigrant population.

The district has about 5,400 English language learners this school year — up 8% or about 400 children more than last year, said Jessica Dunn, the English as a second language director and interim curriculum and instruction officer.

The newcomer program, a school for students who are new to the country and learning English, also enrolled more students than last year, she said. And the district typically enrolls newcomers throughout the school year, so Dunn expects the total to continue to rise.

“It was not something that we were expecting,” said Dunn, who could not pinpoint why the number of English language learners is growing. “I’d like to think it’s because Indianapolis Public Schools is extraordinarily welcoming to all of our families, especially those that speak a language other than English,” she added.

The district is hiring five new teachers of English language learners because of the higher-than-expected numbers, Dunn said. It has filled two of those positions so far. In addition, the district plans to hire four more teachers at the newcomer program.

Nationally, the number of immigrants continues to grow but the increase in the foreign-born population fell steeply last year. Experts say the slowing growth is likely a result of several Trump administration policies that make it more difficult for refugees and other immigrants to come to the U.S. In Indiana, the latest census data does not show a measurable difference in the foreign-born population.

Enrollment of recent immigrants in Indianapolis Public Schools can fluctuate significantly depending on shifts in migration. Two years ago, the newcomer program had fewer students than expected, in part because of reductions in the number of refugees accepted to the U.S. But the district also serves English language learners who are native to Indiana or who are moving from other states where their families initially settled.

The vast majority of English language learners in Indianapolis Public Schools speak Spanish. But the district serves immigrants from around the world who together speak dozens of native languages. The district recently hired another translator for refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, who speaks French, Kinyarwanda, and Swahili, Dunn said.

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