Immigration and English Language Learners in Nevada:
A Case Study of Clark and Washoe Counties (2010)

Executive Summary

Nevada has had one of the fastest growing foreign-born populations in the U.S. over the past three decades. One result of this growth was the rapid increase in the number of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students enrolled in Nevada’s public schools. In 2008, the LEP student population in Nevada was 15 times larger than it was in 1980. Between 2000 and 2008 alone, Nevada’s LEP student population nearly doubled.

The rise in the LEP student population has followed the general population growth pattern in Nevada, which has been fueled by growing levels of legal and illegal immigration. Ninety-five percent of the state’s foreign-born residents have settled either in the Las Vegas or Reno metropolitan areas. Likewise, 94 percent of all LEP students are enrolled in either Clark (Las Vegas) or Washoe (Reno) County schools.

The rapid increase in students who struggle to comprehend and communicate in English is a fiscal burden for Nevada taxpayers, and one the federal government has done very little to alleviate. The money that the state of Nevada spends to teach students basic English-language skills depletes the resources available to fund educational programs for the children of native-born residents. This effect is even more pronounced in Nevada public schools because, unlike most states, Nevada does not allocate funds specifically for LEP education but instead pays the cost out of the general education budget. This means that the more money that is spent on LEP education the less money there is available for all other programs.

LEP students consistently lag behind the general student population and perform poorly on standardized tests. Nevada’s public school system is ranked 50th out of 51 public school systems in the United States, coming in only ahead of the District of Columbia. Clark and Washoe counties both failed to meet “adequate yearly progress” under federal No Child Left Behind standards, ensuring that designation for the state’s entire public school system. As LEP students continue to struggle academically, it is likely that a significant amount of taxpayer money will continue to be diverted away from the children of native-born Nevadans. With substantial budget cuts being made at the state and local levels, it is important to ask the question: What impact is the cost of LEP education having on the quality of education for the children of native-born Nevadans?

This study includes the following findings:

  • Between 1980 and 2008, the foreign-born population in Nevada increased from 6.7 percent to 19 percent of the state’s overall population.
  • The Census Bureau estimates that 27 percent of Nevada residents over the age of five speak a language other than English at home.
  • The Nevada Department of Education identified 78,732 LEP students statewide in the 2008-09 school year, 18 percent of the total student population in Nevada.
  • Nevada ranks 35th among the states in the number of students enrolled in its public schools but 12th in the total of number of LEP students.
  • Nevada ranks fourth in the U.S. in the percentage of LEP students in its public school system.
  • The cost of LEP education in Nevada in 2008-09 was $730 million.
  • The two largest LEP populations in Nevada were in Clark County (62,734) and Washoe County (11,156). These populations account for 94 percent of all LEP students in the state.
  • The cost of LEP education in Clark County in 2008-09 was $615.4 million. In Washoe County the cost in 2008-09 was $108.8 million.


The full report is available in pdf format.

FAIR Press release: The Cost of Educating Limited English Proficient Students in Nevada Soars to $730 Million Annually