Nevada Struggling to Fund English Language Learners’ Needs

Thirty-one percent of students in Nevada classrooms are English Language Learners (ELL), making Nevada home to the highest density of ELL students in the country. Parents, lawmakers and civil rights groups are concerned that ELL students are not getting enough funding, or the proper attention needed in order to excel, reports Michelle Rindels of the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Only 29% of English language learners graduate from Nevada high schools. Many think it will take more funding to raise this percentage, and Sylvia Lazos asserts that it may require a law suit to persuade the community to think differently.

"What has always held us back as Nevadans is this ideology that we can't expand the revenue pie," said Sylvia Lazos, director of the Immigration Clinic at Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "The real question is: What does it take to give these kids a chance to succeed?"

Students are often able to pick up conversational English from their peers, but they lack the appropriate education to excel on standardized tests. In Nevada 98% of eighth grade ELL students were not proficient in reading compared to 71% of their non-ELL peers.

"They can appear to hang with the rest of the students," said Tracy Spies, an assistant professor of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at UNLV. "But paper-pencil tasks require a different level of instruction."

1.39 is the average state funding rate across the country for ELL students, meaning that districts spend 39% more on those students. For example, the district will add $3,900 for every $10,000 the district spends per ELL student.

Currently Nevada is one of eight states that doesn't provide extra state money for English learners. Republican Governor Brian Sandoval proposed to change this by applying $50 million in state funding for ELL students over the next two years, which equates to $358 per ELL student.

The Nevada Legislature did a study in 2006 that found Nevada should be spending five to eight times more than what the governor proposes. Some estimate that $132 million to $206 million needs to be put towards ELL education.

Mo Denis, the State Senate Majority Leader, is pushing for $140 million for ELL programs. With less than two weeks left in the legislative session the possibility of increasing taxes to add to Sandoval's proposal is unlikely.

In over 44 states lawsuits have been filed over concerns that ELL students were not receiving equal education. No lawsuit in Nevada appears imminent.

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