While the focus of this report is on eliminating language barriers for limited English proficient (LEP) individuals, any strategy to improve communications with this population must also include English learning and address the shortage of high-quality English as a Second Language (ESL) courses for adults. State-administered ESL programs currently serve only about a million of the estimated 12.4 million LEP adults in the United States who need language instruction. The underfunding of ESL programs means that large numbers of immigrant adults who wish to learn English are unable to enroll in classes or face overcrowded classrooms. For instance, a 2006 national survey of ESL providers found that 57 percent of these programs maintained waiting lists -- ranging from a few weeks to more than three years -- and could not accommodate the high numbers of immigrants interested in learning English. Policy experts and organizations that work with adult English learners have proposed various strategies to increase the availability of high-quality ESL courses, but lack of political support at the national level -- coupled with the current fiscal crisis -- has weakened efforts to help immigrants improve their English skills.
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