Rubio returns to roots; will rally in Las Vegas

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is returning to his Las Vegas roots on Saturday to rally support for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a grade school the rising Hispanic political star attended as a child.

The Southern Nevada stop at Ronnow Elementary School will be Rubio’s first solo campaign trip for Romney, who has put the conservative Republican on his list of potential vice presidential running mates.

The public is invited to the 9:30 a.m. rally, but free tickets are limited to several hundred because of space. People can register for tickets online at the campaign said Wednesday.

Rubio, R-Fla., may help Romney attract more Hispanic support in the Silver State, where Latinos could make the difference in the White House race. Four years ago, President Barack Obama got three-quarters of the Hispanic vote here for the win. A recent poll by Latino Decisions shows him up 69-20 over Romney in Nevada among Hispanics.

Cecilia Aldana, president of Nevada Hispanics, a newly formed conservative group, said Rubio will be able to connect to the Latino community and better explain GOP views on immigration and the economy.

"We need to start talking and be serious about the reality of what’s affecting the community," Aldana said, adding it’s important the "conservative movement" reaches Hispanics. "Rubio is extremely effective."

In a pitch toward Hispanics, Rubio had been considering introducing a GOP alternative to the DREAM Act. But President Barack Obama pre-empted the senator by ordering his administration to allow young illegal immigrants who grew up in the United States to remain in the country and get work permits without threat of deportation.

The DREAM Act would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for young immigrants who attend college or join the U.S. military. Rubio’s proposal reportedly would have stopped short of promising citizenship.

Rubio probably will make an economic argument for Romney as well, saying the former businessman is best equipped to bring down the unemployment rate, now at a nation-high 11.6 percent in Nevada and greater among Latinos.

The students of Ronnow Elementary School are among the struggling class of Hispanics in Southern Nevada.

Some 90 percent of the students are Hispanic, with 85 percent eligible for the free or reduced lunch program, the main barometer for calculating how many students live in poverty. To qualify for the federal lunch program, a family of four’s income must be less than $23,050. In comparison, about 51 percent of the Clark County School District’s 308,000 students are in the free lunch program and 48 percent of Nevada students.

About 73 percent of Ronnow students speak limited English. In comparison, about 23 percent of Clark County students and 20 percent of Nevada students are limited English speakers.

The school has consistently failed the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Test results from 2010-11 showed that in third grade, 57 percent of the students had grade-level math skills and 38 percent read at grade level. For fourth grade, 50 were proficient in math and 48 percent in reading. In fifth grade, 59 percent were proficient in math and 53 percent in reading.

The school, near Pecos Road and Washington Avenue, receives $11,289 per student in funding compared with the state average of $8,515. It receives more because of its status as a Title 1 school, meaning it has a high number of poor, minority students.

Rubio’s family struggled while he was growing up. Rubio, born in Miami, is the son of Cuban immigrants. His family moved to Las Vegas in 1979 when he was 8 years old so his father could find work. The young Rubio started third grade at Ronnow. His family moved back to Florida in 1985.

While in Las Vegas, Rubio and most of his family joined the Mormon religion. He was baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They returned to the Catholic church a few years later. Rubio’s cousin is state Sen. Mo Denis, a Democrat from Las Vegas who is a member of the Mormon church.

Contact Laura Myers at or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.

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