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Status of Education in Rural America
NCES 2007-040
June 2007

1.10. Public school students with limited English proficiency

A smaller proportion of public school students in rural areas were identified as limited-English proficient (LEP) than in any other locale in 2003–04.

During the 2003–04 school year, 3.8 million public school students in the United States were identified as limited-English proficient (LEP), meaning they did not use English as their primary language or had limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English (table 1.10). Those students made up 8 percent of the total student population, but among rural students, LEP students made up 2 percent of the student population—the lowest percentage of all locales.

LEP students constituted a larger percentage of the public school student population in cities (14 percent) than in suburban areas (7 percent), towns (5 percent), or rural areas (2 percent). Of all LEP students in the United States, 52 percent attended public schools in cities, while 34 percent attended public schools in suburban areas, 9 percent in towns, and 6 percent in rural areas.

Of the four major U.S. regions, the West had the largest percentage of LEP students (18 percent), followed by the South (6 percent), the Northeast (5 percent), and the Midwest (4 percent). In each region besides the Midwest, rural public schools enrolled a lower percentage of LEP students than public schools in any other locale. In the Midwest, however, there was no measurable difference between the percentages of LEP students in town and rural public schools. In the Midwest, South, and West, the proportions of LEP students in town and rural public schools were higher than in the Northeast.

LEP students often do not speak English at home. In 2004, some 19 percent of children ages 5–17 spoke a language other than English at home and 5 percent of children these ages had difficulty speaking English (table A-1.10). The percentages of children in rural areas who spoke a language other than English at home (7 percent) and who had difficulty speaking English (2 percent) were lower than those for children in cities (29 and 9 percent, respectively), suburban areas (19 and 5 percent, respectively), and towns (12 and 3 percent, respectively).

Within each racial/ethnic group (except within the American Indian/Alaska Native group, where no measurable difference was observed), smaller percentages of children ages 5–17 in rural areas than in cities spoke a language other than English at home or spoke English with difficulty.