By: Brandee Mau, Director of STAMP WS Rating & DLI Specialist

Dual Language Immersion (DLI) programs may feel like a recent development in American education, but according to EdWeek, groups have always sought to protect and preserve their native language, from Polish workers brought to the Carolinas in the 1600s to Yup’ik communities in Alaska today. DLI programs are defined as an education program in which grade-level content is divided and taught in two languages during the school day. Many variations of this model exist and serve a broad swath of children in the United States. The purpose of this post is to examine the actual costs of a DLI program.

A Typical Barrier to Program Implementation

The rationale for starting a DLI program often includes bilingualism and biliteracy goals, developing global citizens, fostering and supporting intercultural competencies, and creating a competitive workforce for the 21st century. Meeting with enthusiastic stakeholders and gathering information to launch a new DLI program is probably one of the most energetic and motivating experiences for language educators.

Funding, and lack thereof, often serves as the default rationale for denying or delaying the start of a DLI program. To better situate the costs in the greater picture of school expenses in general, we will take a look at a typical cost percentage in a school district.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, US school districts spend on average around $14,000 per pupil. 65% of school budgets are allocated to salaries, with the remaining funds allocated to facilities and transportation, and smaller percentages for books, materials, and resources. This means that the bulk of education expenditures are for teachers, administrators, and support staff.

What is the Real Cost of a DLI Program?

Let’s take a look at the actual costs of two different large DLI programs in light of overall education costs to better answer the question. Portland Public Schools conducted a study on the costs of DLI in their district, and the study was later replicated in Utah to analyze the costs for the Utah DLI model. It is important to note that both models have a two-teacher model, meaning that there are two teachers/two classrooms per grade, one for each language of the program. Other DLI models may be more expensive, but the two-teacher model is a very common DLI program model.

Surprisingly, both studies found a two-teacher DLI model cost of around $100 per pupil, per year. What is particularly interesting here is the rather small amount. Buying school supplies each fall can cost more than $100! How is this possible?

Since the salary is the most expensive part of the program, a two-teacher model (like those in the referenced studies) does not add a new teaching position but rather ‘repurposes’ an existing position for DLI.

For example:

A school has four kindergarten teachers, who are teaching full day kindergarten classes. Adding a two-teacher DLI to this school will take two of the kindergarten teaching positions for the model, with one of the teachers being highly proficient in one language and the other teacher highly proficient in the other language.

  • 4 kindergarten teachers prior to the DLI addition 
  • 4 kindergarten teachers after the DLI addition 
  • 2 teachers for traditional classrooms + 2 teachers for DLI classrooms

Adding a DLI program to a school will not incur any facilities costs, like new construction, additional classrooms, or other very expensive building costs necessary to run a school.  This budget line is the second most expensive in education.

Further, all students need books and materials, regardless of what language is used for instruction. This often means that there is a different budget that pays for math materials and the like, so DLI programs might not even incur added expense here.

So what is the extra $100 used for? This small amount is typically used to pay for the slightly more expensive materials in the non-English language or the shipping for items produced outside of the United States and professional learning needs for DLI educators.


If you are looking for rationale to begin the conversation around adding DLI to your local school or district, address the cost directly. $100 per student per year for a program that has such strong academic impact is quite a steal in the educational world!

Learn how the Avant MORE Effective Dual Language Immersion (MEDLI) team can assist you with starting or enhancing your DLI program.