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LEPs Moving to the Suburbs

Mar 15, 2013

Each year, a rising number of Limited English Proficient immigrants relocate to the suburbs. Are suburban schools ready for them and their children?

The NY Times noted that since 2000, in areas where immigrants traditionally have not settled, immigrant population grew by more than 60%. In contrast, the foreign-born population level in urban areas remained the same for the first time in several decades.

The majority of immigrants are Limited English Proficient (LEP). Children of immigrants comprise 90% of LEP students.

Enrollment of LEP students in suburban schools is growing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, LEP students made up 8% of public school enrollment in the suburbs in 2009-2010, closing in on the 14% of LEPs accounted for in urban areas.

What does this mean for LEP students? LEP students lack resources and infrastructure in suburban communities where diversity is new, but growing. In a study by Applied Linguistics, of 115 newcomer programs (English transition programs for recent immigrants), urban areas comprised 76% and the suburbs represented only 17%.

Challenges for LEP Children

LEP children face several challenges in the education setting. A report by NCSL presents some of the challenges:

  • Twice as likely as English speakers to drop out of school
  • Expected to perform the same level on state standardized tests as  native speakers
  • Supply of English language classes does not meet demand
  • Schools with low-LEP populations offer “fewer remedial programs, less parental outreach and support, and less native-language instruction.”
  • Fewer racially and ethnically diverse staff present schools with low numbers of LEPs

The Urban Institute urges training of non-ESL/bilingual teachers even for schools with small/moderate LEP populations. They remark that “training on LEP education would not only help their LEP students, who otherwise run the risk of being overlooked, but would also help teachers prepare for the likely possibility that in the near future, the LEP population at their schools will grow and become a reporting category.”

Responding with Limited Resources

However, suburban areas responding to a rapidly increasing LEP community find their fiscal and human resources limited. Minnesota, where immigration is high, is a prime example. English learner programs are nothing new to Minneapolis and St. Paul where diverse communities have flocked to for years. However, unprepared Mounds View Public Schools in the suburbs of Arden Hills, New Brighton, Shoreview and Vadnais Heights had to start hiring diverse staff and rely on community partnerships due to large immigrant growth. The district saw nearly a 100% increase in LEP enrollment just in the past six years.

Even though schools are trying to respond to the increase in LEP students, some are finding it increasingly difficult to cater services to a variety of languages. Many schools turn to services such as on-site or over-the-phone interpretation to communicate with the parents of LEP students. As more and more immigrants call the suburbs their home, language resources will be essential for not only the success of LEP students, but also for the success of American schools.



Voiance Language Services provides multilingual support in over 200 languages to business and government. Organizations use Voiance’s telephone interpretation to facilitate communication with customers. Voiance is a subsidiary of CyraCom International, Inc., the 2nd largest provider of Over-the-Phone Interpretation in the United States.