Many Nevada Education Boards Lack Hispanic Representation

Hispanic leaders in Nevada are calling attention to an important education issue that takes place outside of the classroom — the lack of Hispanic representation on many of the state’s elected education boards.

Even in the Clark County School District, where about 44 percent of the students are Hispanic, there was no Hispanic member until recently. When a vacancy came open, the board voted to appoint a Hispanic to the seven-member board earlier this month.

“As a board we do not reflect the diversity of our district,” school board president Carolyn Edwards said according to a Las Vegas Sun story.  “Improving that ratio is important.”

Hispanic leaders are trying to encourage more Latinos to run for eduction boards.

Illustrating the importance of representation, the newspaper mentions how Hispanic state lawmakers helped push through $50 million in funding for English Language Learners.

Currently the Nevada Board of Education only has one Hispanic member and the Nevada Board of Regents has never had a Hispanic member. Both boards are elected.

Former Clark County board member Jose Solorio recalled how his Hispanic background helped offer insights into the community. He told the Sun that when the district wanted to use bond money in 1998 mostly on building schools and not on remodeling him, he persuaded them to use the funds more equitably. He argued that more low-income Hispanic children lived in the older schools that needed updates.

“It wasn’t the right thing to do to ignore the existing schools,” Solorio told the Sun. “That’s where the majority of Latinos and African Americans live.”

Related Links:

“Nevada’s Hispanics Work to Boost Representation on Education Boards,” Las Vegas Sun.

“CCSD Board Chooses State BOE Member to Fill Vacancy,” Las Vegas Sun.

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Hispanic Students Fuel Las Vegas Schools’ Record Growth

The Hispanic student population is soaring in the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, where Hispanics are fueling much of the record jump in enrollment this year.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, the student enrollment increased this year by 3,707 students to 315,087 total students. The growth exceeded the district’s expectations.

About 44 percent of Clark County students are Hispanic, while 29 percent are white.

The district is struggling with the growth, and its elementary schools in particular are overenrolled and crowded. Some 30,000 elementary school children attend school in portables. Despite the dire situation, voters in November rejected a tax initiative that would have funded renovations, two new elementary schools and other upgrades.

The Sun reports that three district elementary schools have more than 1,200 students enrolled. Those schools are now operating year-round, so that not all the students are attending at the same time.

Nevada faces significant challenges in its education system. This year, the annual 2013 Kids Count Report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation rated the state last in the nation in education for the second year in a row.

Related Links:

– “Clark County School District Enrollment Grows, With Hispanics Leading the Trend,” Las Vegas Review-Journal.

– “Record Number of Students Packing Clark County Schools,” Las Vegas Sun News.

Clark County School District

Nevada Funding Boost for ELLs Stirs Controversy

A $50 million boost in education funding may seem like good cause for celebration. But in Nevada, the reaction to the news has not been uniformly positive.

That’s because some taxpayers are miffed that only English Language Learners are the beneficiaries. The Las Vegas Sun describes how some critics believe the influx of funding “smacks of special treatment and seems like an unjust, unfair burden on taxpayers who must subsidize the education of a select group of outsiders.”

The word that jumps out to me most from that excerpt is outsiders. Unfortunately, when resources are tight, an “us-versus-them” conflict can surface.

The general public often views ELLs as immigrants — and they often assume ELLs are undocumented immigrants.

“How can I justify requesting millions of dollars for foreign kids when we can’t even help our own kids here in our own state?” one caller to a Las Vegas radio station asked, according to the article.

But the facts don’t bear that out. In Clark County Schools (which encompass Las Vegas), about 80 percent of ELLs are from the United States.

The funding situation was so dire that at one point the ACLU of Nevada, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and Hispanics in Politics discussed a possible lawsuit against the state over the lack of adequate funding for ELLs.

A recent study by the UNLV Lincy Institute found that Clark County schools only provided $119 in funding per ELL students, compared with $4,677 in Miami-Dade Schools in Florida. About 94,771 Clark County students are ELLs.

It’s unclear how much $50 million will accomplish in terms of narrowing such a large gap.

According to the Sun, the influx of funding for ELLs will pay for items including pre-K and kindergarten classes, summer instruction, reading development, and new technology.

Related Links:

– “Funding boost for English-language learners prompts some backlash,” Las Vegas Sun.

– “Lawsuit Threatened Over Funding for ELLs in Nevada,” Latino Ed Beat.

– “Nevada’s English Language Learner Population: A Review of Enrollment, Outcomes and Opportunities,” The UNLV Lincy Institute.

– Clark County School District

Lawsuit Threatened over Funding for ELLs in Nevada

Civil rights organizations in Nevada are raising concerns about the scant funding for English Language Learners attending the state’s public schools, and are investigating a possible lawsuit against the state.

The Las Vegas Sun reports that the ACLU of Nevada, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Hispanics in Politics have met to discuss the situation. Hispanics in Politics president Fernando Romero went as far as to say that Latino students have become “collateral damage,” CBS reported, after funding for ELLs was cut by legislators last session.

The discussions come on the heels of a lawsuit filed just last week by the ACLU against the state of California on behalf of six ELL students and their families, alleging that the state has not adequately educated its ELL student population.

However, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed adding $29 million for ELLs to the budget for use over the next two years.

According to a recent study by the UNLV Lincy Institute, Nevada has severely underfunded services for ELL students. Clark County schools reported serving 53,073 students in its ELL program in February 2013, but 94,771 are defined as ELLs. The report says that Nevada is one of only eight states that does not allocate specific funds to the ELL population (beyond regular base per-student funding). Schools therefore rely on federal funding for additional money.

“The lack of a state vision and action plan for ELL education is especially problematic in Nevada, where despite its higher numbers of ELLs, has no funding mechanism for ELL education nor standards to guide the educational goals and achievement of its ELL students,” the report charges.

According to the study, the Miami-Dade Schools in Florida provides funding of $4,677 per ELL student, while in the Clark County schools in Las Vegas provides just $119 per student.

Just last week, the ACLU, Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP sued the state of California for its alleged failure to provide an adequate education to some 20,000 ELLs. They allege that about 250 school districts say they are providing no to few services to the students. The state has responded that it is committed to making sure ELLs receive appropriate instruction and help.

What sort of funding does your state provide to ELLs? In addition, how are school districts actually using the funding? Are ELL students receiving language services?

Related Links:

– “Education advocates threaten lawsuit over funding public schools,” Las Vegas Sun.

– “Latino Students Are “Collateral Damage,”” CBS Las Vegas.

– “Study of a New Method of Funding for Public Schools in Nevada,” American Institutes for Research.

– “Nevada’s English Language Learner Population: A Review of Enrollment, Outcomes and Opportunities,” UNLV The Lincy Institute.

– “Calif. Neglecting Thousands of English-Learners, Lawsuit Claims,” Learning the Language blog. Education Week.

– “California ignoring some English learners, lawsuit says,” Los Angeles Times.

Las Vegas School System Could Stop Translating Written IEPs

Children with special needs who are also English language learners must overcome significant hurdles to succeed academically. If their parents don’t speak English and are not comfortable navigating the school system, the potential barriers to student success grow even taller.

The Las Vegas Sun reports that since 2004 the Clark County School District has provided the parents of its 8,000 ELL special education students with verbal and written translation services. These services help parents understand the complex federally required Individualized Education Plans (IEP) that outline the personalized goals for children with disabilities.

But the school district has proposed cutting out the written IEP translation services to achieve necessary budget cuts, the newspaper reports. The proposal wouldn’t cut the verbal translators present at parent-teacher meetings, which school districts must provide by law.

Fernando Romero, a Hispanic community activist and a Clark County parent whose son has autism, has spoken out against the proposal. “As a father of an autistic child, I am very upset to hear that they are planning to do this,” Romero told the newspaper. “I know how long it takes to understand the IEP and how technical it is. I’m appalled by this.”

The school district hired a consultant who made recommendations on cuts based on efficiency. In the case of the written IEP translations, the consultant determined that the documents often were sent so late to parents that they were no longer useful. District officials have said they could save $20,000.

Related Links:

“Lost in translation: District’s cost-cutting move targets non-English-speaking parents of special-needs students,” Las Vegas Sun News. March 6.