INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana has launched a new program aimed at recruiting more teachers for English language learning.

English language learning (ELL) courses are meant for students whose primary language is not English. The number of children enrolled in these courses has grown significantly in recent years.

“Since 2016, we’ve seen a 50% increase in English learner students,” said Indiana Education Secretary Katie Jenner.

Local school officials say the increase is having an impact. At Greenfield-Central Schools, ELL enrollment doubled last school year compared to the previous year, according to Lori Katz, director of teaching and learning.

“That has caused quite an increase in workload for teachers in classrooms, as well as people who can help manage and monitor those students and families,” Katz explained.

The state has increased the number of ELL teachers by 38% in the past two years, Sec. Jenner said, but that’s still not enough to meet the growing need.

That’s why the state is partnering with a dozen colleges and universities to offer a free program that will allow teachers to get certified in English as a New Language, Jenner said.

“We encourage anyone who is currently a teacher or who has a bachelor’s degree and is interested in a transition to teaching program,” she said.

The program is similar to one that launched last year to certify more special education teachers, which has enrolled more than 600 people, according to Carey Dahncke, executive director of the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis.

Dahncke said he hopes to see the ELL program gets at least 200 teachers certified.

“Programs like this, which remove the financial barrier for it, we think are pretty important,” Dahncke said.

Several educators say with the increase in students and need for more teachers, funding for ELL has also become a bigger issue.

Rita Bass, director of elementary education for Beech Grove City Schools, said she hopes to see more funding for ELL programs in the future. In her district, ELL enrollment has tripled in the past four years, she said.

“We would not only be able to get more certified teachers, but I think the key lies in good instruction and good strategies,” Bass said.

Lawmakers say they’re considering changes to the school funding formula to direct more money to English language learning.

“When you have to have one teacher for a smaller group of students, you want to make sure there’s enough funding,” said State Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger).

The certification program is being paid for with $2 million in federal COVID relief funding, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

Registration has opened for teachers interested in this new program. For more information on qualifications and how to sign up, click here.