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Money at Center of ELL Achievement Debate in Nevada

In a state that already has one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation, the success of English-learners will have an outsize influence on any progress Nevada makes in driving up the numbers of diplomas that its students earn.

That's because the number of ELL students is large, and still growing—20 percent of the statewide student population in 2010-11, according to state data. But the four-year cohort graduation rate for ELLs in the class of 2010-11 was just 29 percent. (Of course, that rate doesn't reflect the graduation rates of former ELLs whose performance isn't broken out in the state's report card.)

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That demographic imperative seems to have caught the attention of state leaders, especially Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval who is pushing to dramatically increase spending on English-learners in Nevada's schools. The state is one of a handful of holdouts in the country that doesn't provide additional funding to districts to pay for the education of English-learners, according to this Associated Press story which more deeply explores the debate over ELLs in Nevada.

Sandoval, who initially proposed a modest $14 million in extra state funding for ELL programs across the state, recently revised his proposal upward to $50 million.

That figure, though, is the subject of much debate, particularly among advocates and Democratic legislators who say the state needs to invest much, much more into its English-learner programs in order to help districts like Clark and Washoe counties meet the unique needs of their ELL students. Among the strategies that the state and districts are contemplating for improving outcomes for English-learners is more investment in prekindergarten programs for such students and helping more general education teachers earn TESOL certifications.

Students in Lisa Cabrera-Terry's first grade class line up for recess at Jay W. Jeffers Elementary School in Las Vegas. Nevada is home to the highest density of English language learners in the country. But with graduation rates among those students standing at 29 percent, and with no state funding earmarked to help them, some are hinting at a civil rights lawsuit.
--Julie Jacobson/AP


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