The state's public school system will spend almost $7 million this year teaching unaccompanied immigrant children how to speak English. Jefferson Parish alone will spend $4 million and experts say those numbers will continue to rise. That's according to Senator David Vitter's office, who requested the information from the state superintendent of education.
At Tulane University, volunteer Paige Royer teaches English every week to a group of students of different ages and ethnicities. The free classes are organized by Catholic Charities.
Tessa Kiesow, adult education coordinator for Catholic Charities, says, "It's really a big need in the area, and it has traditionally been kind of underserved in Louisiana."
Over the years, Louisiana has seen its immigrant population explode. It's not just adults who are coming over, needing to learn the language. So too, are children, and many of them are coming here alone.
Karina Castillo, executive director of English language learners for the Jefferson Parish School System, says, "We have approximately 5,300 English language learners in Jefferson Parish."
In 2009, that number stood at 3,900. The Jefferson Parish School System estimates that of the 5,300, 575 are new, unaccompanied children. Castillo says the district expects to spend $4.6 million this year to accommodate all of those students.
"We're projecting an increase in 27 ESL teachers, 19 regular education teachers, 20 ESL para-professionals and approximately three special ed teachers," said Castillo.
In St. Tammany Parish, the district expects to spend $1.4 million this year on 145 new unaccompanied children.
"I can see that the projections and the trends that we're seeing nationally will continue to grow here," Castillo said.
Back at Tulane, Tessa Kiesow says demand for the classes remains high. Just as young people need to learn English for their schooling, Venezuelan native Suzanna Moharita says she's got a pretty good reason why she's here.
"I have two grandsons who speak English, and if I don't speak English, I can't talk with them," said Moharita.
Others say they're learning to help build a better life for themselves and their children. It's why Catholic Charities says it has offered the classes for 30 years now and will continue to do so into the future.