Ensuring Quality and Supporting Dual Language Learners in State-Funded Preschools

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released their yearly report on the quality of state-funded preschool programs across the United States. This year, the NIEER reports funding for these programs has improved since the last funding cuts made in prior years. However, serious concerns are raised regarding the quality of education when servicing Dual Language Learners (DLLs).

There are DLLs in every state, however, this year’s report shares most state-preschool programs do not collect data on children’s home language, which can make implementing policies difficult to ensure DLLs are being served in an effective way. Most preschool programs do have some policies to support DLLs, however the policies vary and so does its quality and quantity. Having preschool programs meet non-English speaking family’s needs is imperative, especially since they make up a disproportionate share of the low-income households. In order for DLLs to thrive in kindergarten, policies must be specific to each family in each state. In this context, we dive into four different indicators of high-quality preschools for dual language learners: Enrollment, In-School policies to support DLLs, policies to support DLL families and staff qualifications to ensure DLLs achievement.


According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services & The Department of Education, Dual Language Learners (DLLs) are children who are learning two or more languages at the same time, or learning a second language while continuing to develop their first language. DLLs come from homes where a language other than English is spoken and have varying levels of proficiency in their home language and in English. DLLs can overlap substantially with other young children like English Learners (ELs) & Limited English Proficient (LEP). It is important to also note that Latino children make up 78% of ELs and while we do not have exact data on DLLs, it is safe to assume their demographics are similar to that of ELs.

Students - ESSA implementation


Unfortunately, only 26 state-funded preschool programs in 24 states collect data on the child’s home language. Eleven of the programs that show enrollment of DLLs determine preschool eligibility by age only. In seven of these states, DLLs enrollment in preschool is consistent with the number of DLLs in the state population. This shows most DLLs in these states are enrolled and have an opportunity to jump-start their language acquisition journey. However, several states with high populations of DLLs such as Arizona, Florida and New York do not report the home language of children enrolled in their state-funded preschool programs. Without adequate data, states are not able to provide support for DLLs in their state.


Thirty-five state preschool programs have specific policies to support DLLs. These policies vary across the states. Kansas, Maine, Minnesota Head Start, Nevada, and Texas have more than six DLL policies. However, of those states only two have a high population of DLLs. More state preschool programs with high population of DLLs should implement more than half of the policies to ensure DLLs are academically ready for kindergarten. 


Thirteen state preschool programs require all three of the family support policies: use of home language in recruitment, use of home language in program communications, and systematic collection and use of information on home language. However, there are multiple states that have very few policies in place to support DLLs families (Georgia, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota & South Carolina). While Oregon has 31-34% DLLs enrolled, the other states demonstrate a commitment to supporting DLLs though their policies despite lower numbers of DLLs in their states.


Only nine state preschool programs have one policy relating to staff qualifications for teachers of DLLs. Six programs report whether teachers are fluent in a non-English language, but none of these have specialized staffing requirements relating to DLLs. It is imperative for DLLs to have support in their native-language to reinforce their language acquisition needs.


This report’s findings mirror the concerns we see for ELs in K-12 that begin in early childhood.

  1. Survey and report DLLs in each state-preschool program
  2. Implement policies that will service DLLs throughout their language acquisition journey
  3. Find better ways to support DLL families and implement supports for effective communication in native-language.
  4. Hire qualified teachers that can effectively support DLLs unique development needs.

By Kathrine Ávila, LEE Fellow, Education Policy Project

You might also be interested in: