East Tennessee ESL Student Population Booms

By: Kim Bedford
By: Kim Bedford

Knoxville (WVLT) -- The Hispanic population continues to grow across East Tennessee and in its schools.

Knox County already has roughly 1,375 English as a second language students.

That's about 200 more this year compared to last school year and they say new ESL students are enrolled almost daily.

That increase in Hispanic students, means more money out of your pocket.

"We have a moral, as well as a legal obligation to provide an education to students," said Dan Murphy, from the Knox County School Board.

Murphy says that includes the growing number of Hispanic children in the Knox County school system.

"If they don't have sufficient English speaking skills, we have to provide a course of study," he said.

That's exactly what ESL instruction does for students, but with 200 more enrolled already in Knox County schools so far this year, it doesn't come cheap.

"It's an expensive program because you have to get people who are trained in the language and culture, can deal with students from abroad,” Murphy said. “therefore, the issue becomes, ‘well where does the increase in funding come from?’"

This year Knox County was given about $1 million in BEP funds to help with ESL, but it's unclear right now exactly how much it costs.

Regardless of that, the burden is on the residents.

"All funding is a taxpayer issue," Murphy said.

"I don't think we should have to fund it," said Stephanie Wiggs, a Knox County parents.

Some parents say they aren't comfortable with the idea of paying extra for ESL students.

"I guess it would depend on what the increase was and to know that these dollars were actually going right toward the program," said Julia Stoner, another Knox County parent.

"If they're here they need to learn, but, as long as it doesn't interfere with my child's learning, then that's fine," said Wiggs.

Murphy says it's not a negotiable issue.

"It would be very unfortunate for people to divide the population based on ethnicity and say, sorry, they don't speak our language, they don't deserve an education,” he said. “That would be appalling."

In addition to the increase in ESL students in Knox County Schools, Blount County went from 80 students last year to 112 this year.
Hamblen County had a slight increase from 760 to 765.

Grainger County has 47 enrolled right now, compared to 38 last year and Cocke County had 31 last year and now has 48.

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