They’re called a minority, but Friday showed that Hispanics are anything but in the nation’s fifth-largest school district.
In this school year’s official head count, which took place that day, Hispanic students outnumbered any two other ethnicities combined in the Clark County School District. Their numbers are rising at twice the rate that the Caucasian student population is declining.
This comes as the district reports a record enrollment of 315,087 students, marking a 3,658-student increase, or 1 percent, over last year’s preliminary count of 311,429.
The Nevada Department of Education verifies the district’s head count before providing funding. It reported late Tuesday that its audit – also preliminary – showed enrollment in Clark County public schools was at 314,956 students. That’s a little less than the district’s count, but still marks a record and shows about 2,200 more students than district officials had expected.
The effect of Clark County’s enrollment increase – which is reflected statewide as the number of Nevada students increased this year by nearly 13,000 students to a total of 452,220 – will be more money. With state funding at $5,457 per student, a $200 increase over 2012-13, the enrollment increase will translate to about $19 million more for the district.
However, the other effect will be more crowding at elementary schools that are already beyond capacity and now use every portable classroom that the district can find.
“We’re going to have some real difficult challenges,” said Rick Baldwin, the district’s director of demographics and zoning, talking to a committee that began planning on Tuesday for how Clark County schools’ attendance boundaries could be moved to redistribute students among schools, relieving the pressure at crowded campuses.
A ROLE REVERSAL
Exactly a decade ago, 44 percent of the district’s students were Caucasian and 33 percent were Hispanic. As of Friday, that was switched. Just over 44 percent of students are now Hispanic. Caucasians are at 28 percent.
The shift has been steady, with Hispanics overtaking white students in 2006 as the largest demographic in the district. Statewide, Hispanics edged past Caucasians three years ago to become Nevada’s largest student group, accounting for nearly 39 percent of the enrollment.
Since last school year, Hispanic student numbers grew by 2,811 in Clark County while Caucasians decreased by 1,576. With the exception of American Indian students, which make up just 0.5 percent of the district’s enrollment, Caucasians are the only group that’s shrinking. Other ethnicities remain stagnant or show slight increases, with Hispanics outpacing all other groups.
Why does this matter?
The Clark County School Board and district officials have been trying to improve student performance for years. But as Hispanic students increase in number, so does the scope of the challenges they bring to the district, according to state test results and graduation rates that show them lagging behind other student groups.
State tests are first given in third grade. While 83 percent of Caucasian third-graders meet standards in math, only 66 percent of Hispanic students are at the same place. While 75 percent of Caucasian third-graders read at grade level, barely half of Hispanic students can do the same.
That state test continues into eighth grade. About 72 percent of those Caucasian students meet math standards compared to 53 percent of Hispanics. About 63 percent of those Caucasians read at grade level compared to 38 percent of Hispanics.
CHALLENGES OF GROWTH
Having more students also creates more problems for the cash-strapped district that can’t afford to build new schools.
While middle and high schools have thousands of open seats, Clark County’s 217 elementary schools are strained with about 19,400 more students than their campuses were designed to accommodate, Baldwin said.
Elementary schools, on average, are 14 percent over their student capacities. Some schools, such as Wynn and Long elementary schools, are more than 70 percent over their capacities, relying on 18 and 16 portables, respectively.
And those figures are based on an unofficial head count from Aug. 28 that found “thousands” of fewer students than were counted Friday, said Baldwin, whose office will recalculate enrollment using Friday’s results.
The district has already identified 51 crowded elementary schools that may meet all three triggers this year for going year-round in 2014-15.
However, Baldwin emphasized, it’s unlikely all of those schools will meet the requirement of having a projected enrollment for next school year that represents a 5 percent increase over the average enrollment now and in the preceding year.
It also was before Friday’s unexpected growth in enrollment, which mostly occurred in elementary schools that gained 1,539 more students than projected. Cumulatively, middle and high schools added 653 more students than expected.
The good news is that the district likely won’t have to add more classroom teachers despite receiving about 2,000 more students than expected, Chief Human Capital Officer Staci Vesneske said. “It sounds like a lot,” but isn’t once spread across 357 schools, she said.