Increased Immigration Offers Language Challenges In Public Schools

Sep 26, 2013

Credit National Journal

When she started work in 2006, Lexington’s coordinator of Multicultural Affairs says some 27 languages were spoken in local schools.  This semester in Fayette County schools, Isabel Taylor says children who speak 92 languages attend class. 

As a whole, Taylor says the immigrant population is growing in Kentucky faster than anyplace else in the nation.

“Kentucky is number one in the nation for increase in immigrant population.  In Fayette County, according to my records, we have grown 294 percent just in the last five or six years in immigrant populations,” commented Taylor.

Taylor says the high growth can be partly attributed to a refugee settlement center in Lexington and aggressive international student recruitment by Kentucky universities.

“Our area colleges and universities are recruiting aggressively.  Every single college from UK to Midway are aggressively recruiting international students, particularly doctoral students will come here with their families, parents, children, spouses,” added Taylor.

Taylor says there is also heavy international trade conducted by Kentucky companies.  She says investments made in new businesses by immigrants have also increased the Commonwealth’s tax base.  It’s her impression undocumented immigrant numbers in the area have declined.

“My general impression is that for the past three years there has been a decline, either people moving away or gaining citizenship or gaining status,” said Taylor.

If true, it would run contrary to national trends.  The same report from the Pew Center says illegal immigration edged up last year in the United States.  Given the increasing number of Lexington residents who do not speak English, Taylor says the city must employ more people who speak more than one language.  Council member Diane Lawless says such workers could be recruited in larger cities, where there’s a higher cost of living.

“It would be a really great way to bring more multi lingual folks into Lexington and to our community to help us with some of these problems,” explained Lawless.

It was noted during the Council presentation, the multicultural affairs office at city has is doubling from one person, Taylor, to two.