School funding ‘flaw’ targeted

WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., says he will try to fix a “flaw” in the federal No Child Left Behind Act that is cutting $2.8 million this year from a Nevada program that teaches English to non-native students.

Clark County alone would lose $2 million in English Language Learner funds, which district leaders said will hamper education for Hispanic students.

Reid said he has developed changes to the formula that the government uses to calculate students eligible for federal language assistance. The senator said he would work to have those changes added to an upcoming measure that reauthorizes the federal school law, the No Child Left Behind Act.

“The methodology for counting English language learners has proven to be flawed and inaccurate,” Reid said in a prepared statement.

“As school officials in Nevada can attest, our state has seen a dramatic increase in the number of ELL students, not a decrease.”

The problem stems from the state and the Department of Education utilizing different ways to calculate eligible students. Although Nevada takes a hard count, the federal government uses estimates from the U.S. Census.

Reid is looking at a number of solutions, including a provision that would minimize fluctuations by specifying that a state’s allocation couldn’t shrink more than a certain percentage each year, said Jon Summers, a spokesman for the senator.

Another possibility would be to utilize an average of federal census and state counts to come up with student numbers, he said.

Reid said in a prepared statement earlier this week that he has met with federal, state and Nevada county school officials to discuss potential changes to the formula.

This year, the U.S. Census Bureau estimate concluded that Nevada students needing English proficiency teaching had declined by 20,000 from 2004 to 2005, according to Trey Ditto, public information officer for the Department of Education.

Officials in the Nevada Department of Education have disputed the numbers.

Nevada counts 74,009 students eligible for language assistance. The federal number assumed fewer, but Steve Ross, a state consultant, said Nevada officials have been unable to get a full picture about the discrepancy.

“Immigrant students have been increasing every year, but the (funds) this year are a 31 percent drop,” Ross said.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., also has assigned aides to the issue.

“We are working with the Department of Education and Senator Reid’s office to resolve this and ensure that Nevada gets its fair share of education funding,” said Don Tatro, Ensign’s deputy press secretary.

Clark County has seen an average growth in non-English speaking students of 10 percent a year. Hispanics make up the largest portion of the student population in the district.

Ross said that No Child Left Behind allows the state’s numbers to be used, but U.S. Department of Education policy is that only U.S. Census estimates are used to calculate payments.

“They have indicated that the reason they use the (Census) is that they don’t have good data from the other states,” Ross said.

“My question is, Why do we have to be penalized?”

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