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Nevada Schools Struggle With Resources for English-Learners

Nevada, a small state by population, is home to a large share of English-language learners. The Clark County schools, which include Las Vegas, enroll more than 50,000 ELLs in a district of 311,000, many of them the American-born children of Hispanic immigrants. Washoe County, which enrolls 63,000 students in Reno and surrounding communities, is home to more than 10,000 English-learners.

Despite those numbers, the state has been one of a small handful of holdouts that do not provide districts with any additional money to educate ELLs beyond what it pays for regular students. While advocates for ELLs have argued that the state has been shortchanging students who are learning English, critics counter with charges that Nevada's large population of English-learners has drained resources from general education programs.

But that could be changing. Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, is pushing for $14 million in new programs for ELLs in what he calls an "English Language Learners Initiative." In his State of the State address earlier this year, Sandoval said the state's obligation to support the education for ELLs was "no less important" than that of native English-speakers. It's pragmatic, considering that 15 percent of the state's public school students are learning English.

But now that Dwight Jones, the superintendent in Clark County, will be stepping down from the post later this month, some advocates for English-learners worry that the budget measure for ELLs is losing a powerful advocate. And under its own budget pressures, Clark County is weighing a controversial decision that would eliminate written translations of Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, for special education students whose parents do not read or speak English. The Las Vegas Sun has a very good story exploring this issue.

The newspaper reports that while federal law requires oral translation for non-English-speaking parents and guardians at IEP meetings, it does not require written translations of the IEPs themselves.

Follow me on Twitter for more news on English-language learners @l_maxwell.

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