Simplified: Thousands of people in Sioux Falls – primarily immigrants and refugees – speak either limited English or none at all. Local nonprofits are helping, but City Councilor Janet Brekke is asking the city to take a closer look at how it might expand the services available.

Why it matters

  • The latest data shows more than 3,300 adults in Sioux Falls speak either limited English or none at all, according to information presented to the City Council Tuesday by Tim Jurgens, director of LSS' Center for New Americans.
  • The vast majority – upwards of 90 percent – of the people Jurgens said the center serves speak English at a level between Kindergarten and second grade.
  • Brekke, who asked Jurgens to present to the council, said she wants to see more resources for these adults to learn English as a way to advance their career trajectory.
"We need to do the kinds of things that not only get them up and running with those labor jobs, but put them in a position where, over time, they can work into a better job," Brekke said. "And I think English language is a huge stepping stone to that."

What are the obstacles preventing people from learning English now?

Funding, primarily.

LSS receives federal funding for English education based on the number of refugees taken in by the state. But as the number of refugees dropped dramatically in recent years, so too has the funding, Jurgens said.

  • That's resulted in a 30 percent reduction in the number of English classes available through LSS, he added.

There are also obstacles for the people looking to take the ESL (English as a second language) classes. These include:

  • Child care
  • Transportation
  • Time (i.e. classes conflict with work schedules).

What could be done to help?

One of the options on the table for LSS is looking to partner with businesses so ESL classes can be provided by employers.

LSS is also exploring expanding class times, making some classes available online, or a hybrid of online and in-person, Jurgens said.

What is the city's involvement?

Right now, there isn't a specific proposal for city funding on the table.

The city has in the past given money to Southeast Technical Institute to help fund English classes as part of training for carpentry and other skilled labor jobs, Brekke said.

She's hoping some city funding could help LSS do more to go out and bring English classes to the folks who need it, and give them the resources needed to help build partnerships with businesses.

What happens next?

Because the council meeting was information-only, there's no specific next steps.

If Brekke or any other councilor wants to pursue allocating city funding to expand access to English classes, it would take a measure brought before the whole council.