Las Vegas loves a winner. It’s always been that way in the 47 years I have lived here. If you are winning, the community is behind you. If not, not so much. The obvious case in point are the Golden Knights. On the other hand, by being near the bottom of the National education rankings, support has waned for K-12 education for decades. But the momentum is starting to turn.
Because education and economic development are inextricably linked, the LVGEA has been a big proponent of improving our education system, from pre-K through our highest-degreed programs.
The turnaround started in the 2015 Legislature. Governor Sandoval put forth a bold agenda of education reforms and began an effort to better fund education coming out of the Great Recession. Forty business and civic groups stood on the steps of the Capital to support the Commerce Tax, which was designated for education.
In the process of developing support for the Commerce Tax the business community learned that 35% of businesses that aren’t coming to our community aren’t coming because of our education system and/or lack of workforce, which is an education issue.
The 2015 Legislative Session sparked an effort to meaningfully address critical problems holding back our educational effort.
Seeds were planted then that have resulted in a much more strategic and collaborative approach to assist school districts in improving student outcomes by the Governor’s Office, Legislators, the business community, not-for-profits, higher education, municipalities, bargaining units and others.
Don’t get me wrong, we are not anywhere close to where we need to be, but the momentum at CCSD is going in the right direction, and there were strategic decisions made during the 2019 Legislative Session that promote meaningful improvement.
Some examples. FINALLY, in SB543, Senators Woodhouse and Denis scrapped the 50+ year -old Nevada Plan for funding K-12 which routinely disadvantaged Southern Nevada students. The new Funding Formula model requires funding to follow the student. Every student in Nevada now will now be funded equally with other students in similar circumstances.
SB 543 also eliminated the “leaky bucket” where monies that were supposed to go to education in the State Budget were diverted for other purposes.
Another critical reform in SB 543 is that there are now requirements that funding increases consider student population growth and inflation. Our State owes a great debt to Senators Woodhouse and Denis along with Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis who did the financial modeling and helped draft this landmark legislation.
As a result of Jeremy’s work, for the FIRST TIME, the State now knows the sources of all education funding (over 80 different sources) and all uses of the funding (over 100 uses). While systems to monitor these sources and uses are not yet readily available, we are on the right track. You can’t manage without information.
Another important development in the 2019 Legislature was the inclusion of monies in the State Budget for teacher salary increases. It is important to attract, retain and incentivize talented teachers if for no other reason than the research shows the best predictor of good outcomes in a classroom is a highly qualified teacher.
One of the biggest challenges of our education system is finding qualified teachers. CCSD has a chronic shortage of up to 1,000 teachers each year. To address this issue NSHE, Governor Sisolak, the Legislature and the private sector supported funding for construction of a new building at Nevada State to specifically address this issue. Our hope is that the Glenn and Ande Christenson School of Education will equip new teachers with state-of-the-art strategies that will allow students to reach their full potential.
Speaking of teachers, one way to better attract, retain and incentivize talented teachers that does not cost a lot of money is to significantly improve the climate and culture in the school building.
While only on the job a year, Superintendent Jara is making significant management changes designed to improve student outcomes. He has published ambitious four-year goals with specific metrics that have been approved by the CCSD Board of Trustees. To help him achieve those goals there are now experts from the private sector in Finance, Human Resources, operations and other areas to help him manage this giant organization – the fifth largest school district in the country. Hopefully one of their key areas of focus will be addressing issues around climate and culture.
There is so much to do it can be overwhelming – not to mention the critical need of funding adequacy.
Momentum and support around our education system is building. As student outcomes improve and the community sees significant progress, I believe the funding adequacy issue will be addressed in a meaningful way. After all, Vegas supports a winner.