Refugee agency to make ‘forceful’ case to boost funding for English learner students

The leader of Bowling Green’s refugee resettlement agency says his organization will make a “forceful” argument to state government for more school funding for English learner students, calling it “common sense.”

“We all know that Kentucky’s schools are underfunded. That’s a fact,” said Albert Mbanfu, executive director of the International Center of Kentucky.

Mbanfu said the challenge is compounded for schools with higher populations of English learner students: “We all know that you have to spend a little bit more to take care of English language learners,” he said.

In September, at a meeting the International Center held with local refugee resettlement stakeholders, superintendents of Warren County Public Schools and the Bowling Green Independent School District described being “overwhelmed” by the number of refugee arrivals in recent years.

In some cases, because of being persecuted and displaced from their homeland, refugees have interrupted educational experiences.

Bearing the responsibility for educating students several years behind – or in some cases having no formal education at all – is a Herculean effort, district leaders said. They do so with a limited amount of state and federal dollars to educate English learner students, they said, taking a toll on their general funds.

Speaking to the Daily News this week, Mbanfu said his organization understands the funding challenges schools face, and it’s working to make state and local authorities understand that issue and that the state has an obligation “to make sure that the schools have the resources needed to take care of these new Americans.”

“The International Center will be very forceful to present an argument to the state why we think schools that have a higher percentage of English language learners need more resources,” Mbanfu said. “It’s just common sense.”

With Gov.-elect Andy Beshear slated to take office Tuesday, and state lawmakers expected to draft a two-year state budget in early 2020, Mbanfu said the International Center will make its case on both fronts.

“We will not just be focused on the legislature, but we very much want to make our case to the executive,” he said.

The refugee resettlement agency will also work with its network of partners to make its concerns known and “keep on pushing” until additional dollars are adding to support English learner students.

In Warren County Public Schools, Kentucky’s fourth-largest school district, there are 2,539 students receiving English language education services, making up about 14 percent of the entire district, according to district data.

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