Jim Clark: Sandoval’s vision to reform Nevada education
Special to the Bonanza
Gov. Brian Sandoval spelled out a bold plan to improve Nevada K-12 education in his recent State of the State speech.
If you’re an education reform advocate it was music to your ears. If you’re an education status quo fan, it must have sounded like a doomsday knell.
What was his inspiration? In 1998 Florida, a state demographically similar to Nevada, had exactly the same lousy score on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) test.
In 1999, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush instituted a series of reforms including tax credit tuition scholarships for poor students, vouchers, a rating system for schools, ending social promotion, a robust system of charter schools, and expanded online learning programs.
By 2010, Florida scored two levels higher than Nevada on the same NAEP test. Of particular interest gains by minority students were even greater.
It was also the year Sandoval first ran for governor of Nevada. Not surprisingly, his education platform looked a lot like Jeb Bush’s.
His challenge was that the leaders of the Nevada State Education Association (the teacher union) are, to put this delicately, not enthusiastic about education reforms.
And the teacher union is a main constituent and supporter of the Nevada Democratic Party … the party which controlled the legislature during Sandoval’s first two legislative sessions.
Nonetheless, he accomplished some major, if not sweeping, reforms during his first term including a school rating system, changing the state school superintendent from elected to a gubernatorial appointee and establishing a state charter school authority.
Now, for the first time supported by a GOP legislature, Sandoval outlined a series of steps to help Nevada students and bring the Silver State’s abysmal achievement scores up substantially.
They include: weighting state funding of schools so poverty and English language learner schools receive more funding; additional funding for “zoom” schools (low scoring schools singled out for improvement); additional funding for the gifted and talented student program; funding to improve high school graduation rates; tax credit scholarships for minority and poverty students; more charter schools; merit pay for superior teachers; local school board trustees to be appointed rather than elected; small school districts to be consolidated while urban districts to be decentralized; and creation of an “achievement school district” consisting of all underperforming schools in Nevada under a single superintendent, specifically former Washoe Superintendent Pedro Martinez.
To pay for all this Sandoval proposes to make a “temporary” tax enacted several years ago permanent and to impose a graduated cost system to the present business license tax scheme.
Examining his ambitious program for proposals of local interest the two that stand out are decentralizing urban school districts and appointing, rather than electing, school board trustees.
Old time Incline/Crystal Bay residents will recall the 1997 legislative session in which Incline/Crystal Bay became its own independent school district … at least until Democrat Gov. Miller vetoed the measure.
Maybe that’s back on the table with Governor Sandoval.
When he announced his appointment proposal he alluded directly to the dysfunction exhibited by the Washoe School Board in its tussle with Superintendent Martinez.
One school trustee publicly belittled the idea suggesting that it would be a blow to democracy to appoint school trustees. Would it?
Democracy without an informed electorate and a system of checks and balances is mob rule by a minority. That’s what happened with the Washoe school trustees.
There was no transparency and none of them listened to their constituents. Appointive boards such as planning commissions, the Reno Airport Authority, the Regional Transportation Authority, etc., don’t get into the kinds of kerfuffle the school board did. Why? Because the teacher union is the main source of support and funding for school board candidates.
Yes, governor, it’s time to reform Nevada’s education system.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada State GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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