SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — South Kingstown parents are speaking out after the school district announced it would end its Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program next year due to a budget shortfall.

The DLI program, offered at three schools, allows students to split their instructional time between English and Spanish. In a school board meeting Monday, the district voted 4-3 to end the program after this year.

Superintendent Mark Prince told 12 News the program had to go because the district is facing a budget shortfall of $1.124 million.

Several parents expressed their frustrations about the program being nixed and said they felt the school didn’t try hard enough to find other ways to address the budget shortfall.

Chris Hubbard, a South Kingstown parent, has three bilingual kids in the program. He said the DLI program has been close to the chopping block several times, but has always escaped being eliminated.

“It seems to be the lightning rod for any problems the school system is having, and we’ve been able to combat it pretty well up until now,” Hubbard said.

Barbara Slade, whose child attends Peace Dale Elementary School, said the program helps her second grade son connect with his heritage.

“Growing up in these neighborhoods, it’s not just about what you do at home,” Slade said. “It’s the community around you supporting you in your language development.”

The district hired consultant Chad Ransom to evaluate the DLI program. Ransom told 12 News he did not recommend cutting the program, explaining that districts often spend less on dual immersion students in the long run.

“Many of the areas identified in this program review are connected to broader district needs that are not specific to the dual immersion program,” Ransom said.

The news of the program’s elimination comes even after the district sent a letter in March stating that the program would continue into the 2022-2023 year.

The district received $3 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, but it is unclear why that money couldn’t be used to address the budget concerns.

In a statement, Prince told 12 News the district has looked at several ways to keep the program going, including placing DLI in every building and reducing career, technical, and advanced placement classes.

“In order to balance the budget, reductions were needed,” Prince said.

Prince did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

“We need to really, really learn what equity is and what equality means, the difference between those and what is right for our children,” Slade said.