Full English-language-learner programs are needed, not pilot, lawmakers say

Lawmakers objected Monday to the proposed pilot program for English-language learners in the governor’s budget, saying the time for study has passed.

Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, whose Las Vegas district is heavily Hispanic, said there has been ample study nationwide of what works and what doesn’t. She said she doesn’t understand why Nevada doesn’t put ELL program funding in the base budget instead of spending another two years studying the issue.

“ELL programming is not something new, and the fact we’ve needed this in Nevada for, actually, quite a long time is not something new, either,” Flores said. “The only reason we’re having this conversation now is because it’s reached crisis level.”

“What’s wrong with now? Why are we waiting another two years?”

State Superintendent James Guthrie disagreed, saying, “the research, in my opinion, is not nearly as clear as you are painting it, especially in Nevada.”

He said the pilot program will provide the data needed to determine how best for each of Nevada’s 17 school districts to take on the growing need for ELL programs.

Deputy Superintendent Deborah Cunningham said it wouldn’t be wise to modify the state’s K-12 funding formula piecemeal because of its complexity.

“It’s not a good idea to fix one part and then, later, fix other parts. It really needs to be taken as a whole,” she said, adding that cost differences around the state and many other issues must also be addressed in that formula.

But Flores was joined by several other members of Senate Finance and the Assembly Ways and Means committees in charging that a pilot grants program containing about $15 million a year just isn’t the answer. Assemblyman Andy Eisen, D-Las Vegas, said that’s especially the case given that the pilot grants program contains “no expectation that these dollars will provide services to every English-language learner.”

“When are we planning to do that?” he asked. “What is the target date at which we will reach every student who needs it?”

“We’ve been studying and studying,” said Ways and Means Chairman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas. “It’s time to take he test.”

Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, made the same point: “I do think there’s enough stuff out there to put together something comprehensive now that isn’t a pilot.”

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, asked directly if Guthrie was in favor of changing the funding formula now to incorporate ELL funding.

“If the elected officials direct us to change the formula, we would change the formula,” Guthrie said. “I would recommend we not do that until we have the ability to weave together all the parts. “

The committee took no action on the proposed ELL program.


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