Wednesday, March 6, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Sylvia Lazos, a UNLV professor of civil rights, argued the debate over the translation services in the Clark County School District is endemic of a larger problem: the underfunding of English-language learner students in Nevada.
Clark County has the nation's third-highest population of English-language learner students as a percentage of total enrollment. About 17 percent of Clark County's 311,000 students — about 54,000 — are classified as English-language learner students.
That figure is expected to grow as children of Hispanic immigrants — who helped build Las Vegas' booming construction and hospitality industries during the 1990s and early 2000s — become of age and enroll in school, Lazos said.
These students have the lowest achievement rates in Clark County, which has one of the worst graduation rates in the nation. English-language learner students consistently score among the lowest of any student group on standardized tests. Nine of 10 English-language learner students fail the high school proficiency exam, contributing to a 30 percent graduation rate for Nevada's Hispanic students.
In other words, English-language learner students in Nevada are being left behind, Lazos said.
Yet, despite these tough challenges, Nevada provides little support to help its English-language learner students, Lazos said.
The Silver State allocates no state money to help the students catch up to their peers. Nevada receives about $110 per English-language learner student in federal funding, which advocates say isn't enough to address the needs of this challenging population.
State leaders are debating between $14 million and $66.5 million in state funding for English-language learner students.
If approved, some of that funding could be used to bring back about 60 facilitators whose jobs were eliminated in Southern Nevada last school year. The money could also be used to fund literacy programs as well as professional development for English-language learner teachers.
Teacher training is key because Clark County teachers are not providing a high quality of instruction tailored to English-language learner students, Lazos said. She pointed to a recent WestEd study that found only one classroom out of 70 observed in the district had "high-quality ELL instruction."
The WestEd report, released in June 2012, found that "low expectations and perceptions of English-language learner students as deficient are pervasive," and "there is little evidence that teachers design instruction to challenge and support ELL."
"We have an obligation to provide every child with a reasonable educational opportunity," Lazos said. "We haven't been doing a good job (with English-language learner students). We need to be thinking about ways to strengthen them instead of looking at legal loopholes to save money."