17 March 2023
There are some important take-aways from the adversarial comments the Clark County Education Association and the Clark County School District leveled at each other in the Senate Education committee meeting in February. With major funding increases now in play, CCEA’s line in the sand to the school district was this: Either show improvement in student performance within one year or put the school district under court-ordered receivership.
That was followed by this retort from CCSD’s Chief Communication Officer Tod Story: “(the union) has repeatedly refused to work with us to focus district and school resources to support students with the greatest need.”
What a time for a such a spat between the school district and teacher’s union responsible for 65 percent of public-school outcomes in Nevada. And just as Gov. Joe Lombardo and the 2023 Legislature are about to approve extraordinary funding increases for education ─ to the tune of $2,000 more per student. Has the pot of money about to be bestowed upon K-12 education suddenly become a hot potato?
There is no argument countering CCEA’s insistence that demonstrable improvements in student achievement must go hand in hand with the huge funding increases. But the finger-pointing is questionable considering it is CCEA’s membership that is largely responsible for student learning outcomes.
Of course, there are many things beyond the control of our hard-working teachers that matter greatly, such as large class sizes, staffing shortages and challenging social impacts on many of the students they teach each day. But what happens in the classrooms between today’s teachers and today’s students is what matters most to reverse learning declines as quickly as possible.
The accountability-or-else messaging is also in the recent CCEA sponsored video, one that plays on the public’s heartstrings by showing students in masks and describing how “the pandemic cheated kids out of years of learning …” That specific message seems disingenuous, since the CCEA was complicit in the prolonged closure of schools in Clark County during the pandemic by virtue of not pushing harder to keep them open as much as possible.
While schools were closed for months in Clark County, for example, districts in the rest of the state were doing everything possible to keep theirs open by only closing schools temporarily in response to local viral outbreaks. Given the poor results of the most recent national test data in mathematics and reading, the state has paid a very steep price in learning loss for those school-closure decisions.
The 30-second clip includes “school districts have to show us how they’re going to deliver results before the Governor and Legislature deliver the money.” This could almost be a paid advertisement from a conservative think tank complaining about government spending excesses. It’s as if the school district and teacher’s union are at polar opposites instead of working in unison.
The problem is, this posture doesn’t jive with CCEA’s pleas for funding in recent years. Consider this caption from a 2018 issue of the association’s newsletter, CCEA Record, as the association fought for funding from the 2019 Legislature: “Securing funding is our top priority.” And this from the association’s 2019 Fund Our Schools NOW! initiative: “By signing the petition, you are joining thousands of educators and parents demanding that legislators fund our schools, NOW!”
Well, that’s exactly what the Legislature is about to do. And with more funds than anyone could dream of. Or, possibly know what to do with. Just how will these new funds — to the tune of $2 billion — be directed to improve student outcomes?
In late February, Democratic leadership gave school districts 30 days to develop their plans to explain how.
Solving the state’s education crises will not come from quick fixes — low academic performance is a decades-old problem in Nevada. Although high school graduation rates have risen dramatically in the past six years, from 74 percent in 2016 to an average of 82.4 percent in the years since, corresponding proficiency rates in English language arts and mathematics have lagged far behind.
For example, in 2019, the graduation rate in Clark County topped 85 percent, but less than 25 percent of 11th grade students tested proficient in mathematics and less than half were proficient in English language arts.
This data represents very serious problems that require very serious solutions. Focusing on early-skill development through such programs as Read By Grade 3, as Gov. Lombardo wants to do, is an important starting point. Creating teacher development pipelines to alleviate staff shortages, as the CCEA wants, is another. Both will cost money. Today, the money is there — in buckets. Just as the CCEA and others have long wished for.
Let’s stop the finger-pointing and strategize how best to use this financial windfall to immediately benefit students who need additional help the most. What happens in Clark County will set the pace for the rest of the state.
Michael Raponi is a contributing columnist for The Nevada Independent. He can be reached at [email protected].
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