Jim Clark: Are we finally starting to fix education in Nevada? | SierraSun.com

Jim Clark: Are we finally starting to fix education in Nevada?

We need better schools, right? How do we do that? Democrats and school officials claim the answer is more money. Yet, according to the US Center for Education Statistics, our neighbors Utah and Arizona spend less per pupil and get better achievement results. California spends more per pupil than Nevada but gets even worse results.

News stories offer a clue to the answer. The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that 10 elementary schools were under-performing academically, while an 11th, with the same makeup of poverty students and English language learners, was performing at the four-star level. Washoe County school officials replaced the principals of all 10 schools who were then “reassigned.”

The Las Vegas Sun reported that Clark County school officials took principals from the high performing schools and “franchised” them to also run poor performing schools. “The former principals of the low-star schools have been ‘reassigned,’” the story stated.

The RGJ reported that the Washoe County School Board, after criticism and fines for serial violations of Nevada’s Open Meeting Law, recently hired the law firm of Maupin, Cox and LeGoy at $300 per hour.

And although the board will no longer ask School District Counsel Randy Drake for legal advice, “Drake remains the district’s head attorney over its legal department at an annual base salary of about $110,000.”

Last session, the legislature delegated to the Washoe County Commission authority to raise property and sales taxes to pay for maintenance and repair of schools.

At a public hearing, Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler told then-Superintendent Pedro Martinez that during the economic recession, Washoe County laid off 30 percent of its staff. Martinez responded that the school district didn’t lay anyone off; they just “spent their reserves.”

Nevada spends $10,377 per pupil so for a class of 28 students the school district gets over $290,000. The teacher gets maybe $60,000 so $230,000 goes to “administration.”

The answer appears simple, but it’s not. Because of union collective bargaining contracts, it is virtually impossible to discharge redundant personnel. Efforts to do so, even for cause, have resulted in legal and court costs far exceeding the expense of continuing their salaries.

Other states have answered: “competition.” If parents and students have a choice of educational opportunities, market forces will drive all schools to improve by competing. In 1990, Milwaukee, implemented a system of school vouchers, so members of the African American Community could have a private school option.

In 1991, Minnesota passed the first charter school law; currently 43 states and the District of Columbia have charter schools. University sponsored studies show that achievement by school districts as well as competing charter and private schools have all improved as a result of competition.

Currently, Wisconsin and Minnesota are among the top states for student achievement according to the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Democratic legislators do not like competition in education. But for the first time since 1926, Nevada has a GOP legislature and governor and they’re not wasting any time.

Already signed into law are measures making school construction and repairs less expensive and a tax credit scholarship program, similar to vouchers, which will enable up to 1,000 Nevada poverty level students to opt into private schools.

Still to come are: a bill that would hold non-readers at third grade and pay for literacy specialists to bring them up to grade level; a measure to establish education savings accounts allowing parents to use state funds earmarked for education to pay for private school tuitions; legislation that would curtail monopolistic collective bargaining practices; and finally a bill which would strengthen Nevada’s charter schools.

K-12 education in the Silver State is headed in the right direction.

Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Nevada and Washoe County GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at tahoesbjc@aol.com.

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