(or “Why Nevada is Going to Get Sued for Millions.“)
With recent headlines like “Conference attendees say Nevada isn’t doing enough to educate ELL students,” and “GOP lawmaker seeks more state funding for English language learners,” it should come as no surprise that Nevada has an English Language Learner problem in its grade schools. What such headlines don’t show is the depth and breadth of the peril we place our state in by not doing enough to educate ELL students.
According to 2012 Applied Analysis impact study, the cost to Nevada of ELL students who will fail to graduate, or unlikely to graduate, is projected at $17 trillion, in loss of tax payments, unemployment benefits, cost of incarceration, and health care costs that will have to be subsidized. This net economic drag can be reversed if Nevada adequately educates ELL students early on and fixes its high school graduation crisis. The estimated return on investment if this is accomplished is tenfold for each dollar spent over the coming years. Therefore, every day Nevada continues to view the investment of educating ELL students as a burden is another day that the potential return on investment is not realized.
Depth of the ELL Population
Nevada school age children in general are demographically diverse and likely to be “at risk” – three in five are minorities, one in six is an ELL learner, and one in two qualifies for free or reduced cost school lunches – further exacerbating efforts to educate ELL students.
- Nevada ranks third nationally in states that have the most English Language Learners. State-wide there are 76,517 active, tested ELL students, or 17.5% of Nevada’s students.
- About 70% of ELL students attend CCSD schools, where there are 55,000 ELL students.
- Close to 90% of the ELL population are Latino and Spanish speaking. Latinos are the fastest growing demographic under 18, and now make up close to 50% of all students K-3.
ELL population has remained stable for the last five years, even as immigration has declined into the state. Although some immigrant families, particularly undocumented immigrants left Nevada in the last three years, the bulk of the immigrant families have decided to make Nevada their home in spite of the hard times. As is evident the magnitude of Nevada’s ELL demographics is no longer small enough to fully address by diverting minor resources from general education funding as it once was decades ago.
Breadth of the ELL Achievement Gap
Nevada has a legal obligation under constitutional law, federal law, and state law to provide ALL children with an equal quality of education and quality educational opportunities; free of charge and regardless of legal status. However, Nevada’s ELL children lag significantly behind their English-speaking counterparts, third grade ELL children lag 15% behind in CRT reading scores, and the gap becomes larger the longer that they remain in ELL programs, one in twelve ELL children passes the English high school proficiency exam.
Experts agree that teaching special populations of ELL children require skill sets and expertise that the average teacher is not taught. In addition, for ELL children to succeed they need to receive instruction from teachers who understand how to teach the development of language as well as how to communicate to English Language Learners academic concepts. Shockingly, in a recent review of Clark County School District classrooms 69 out of 70 teachers were rated as not providing high quality ELL instruction and most observed classroom interactions contained NO instructional content for ELL students on language development. Reviewers made it loud and clear that the high quality instruction required for ELL students was almost completely missing. This is overwhelming evidence that Nevada is not meeting its legal obligations requiring that “the programs and practices actually used by a school system [be] reasonably calculated to implement effectively the educational theory adopted by the school.”
Providing Resources for ELL Needs
Increased funding does not guarantee that the additional resources needed for educating ELL students are provided. However, Nevada doesn’t currently provide any funding for ELL resources, one of only a handful of states that does not provide any state funding for ELL children. In failing to provide even minimum services for ELL children the state places itself at risk of a multi-million dollar lawsuit. School districts with comparable ELL student populations, who have settled ELL lawsuits, such as Florida, California and Arizona provide substantial state support for ELL programs leaving a strong precedence for substantial ELL resources as a funding requirement. Further deteriorating ELL resources in Nevada:
- Federal funding for ELL has declined, because of Nevada has not provided financial support, from about $200 per student five years ago to $120 per student. Currently Nevada ranks almost last in receiving federal dollars for education.
- In the past 3 years of funding difficulties, Districts have cut ELL personnel by as much as half and federal Title III money cannot be used to maintain or restore these cuts because of “supplement, not supplant” criteria.
- Nevada’s basic education funding rate includes weights for the number of enrolled kindergartners and handicapped children, but it does not include ELLs.
This leaves us asking the question “What level of funding for ELL will fix the looming human, work force and legal crisis?” The Nevada legislature has commissioned two studies in 2006 and 2012; both recommended increasing funding for ELL students. According to the 2006 adequacy study, Nevada should be funding English Language Learners at $5600 per child which when adjusted for inflation would have equated to $3,551.3 million in additional funding dedicated strictly for English Language Learner instruction and resources. The 2012 study was unable to propose an updated estimate for funding ELL resources because it was “simply not possible to disentangle the relationship between – low‐income [students] and ELL students.”
Authored by Sebring Frehner with the expertise of various community leaders.