Nevada’s Next Chapter In Education Reform

 

When I decided to run for Governor of Nevada and identified the policy areas that I believe are most important for our state’s leaders to address, education was at the top of the list. That is why I have spent the past several months meeting with some of our state’s teachers, administrators, and policymakers from our public, private, and public charter school communities to put together a robust platform that I believe will make Nevada’s next chapter in education our best yet.

Education is the civil rights issue of our time. Too many kids are never given a chance to succeed because they are stuck in schools that are failing them. Important steps have been taken in recent years, but we owe it to our children and grandchildren to do even more to improve our education system.

It is important to realize that every child is unique, with his or her own particular educational needs and challenges, and our goal must be to make sure that every student graduates high school with the tools needed to succeed at the next level — whether that means attending college, pursuing career-focused training, or finding a quality job.

As your Governor, ensuring that every Nevada child has access to a quality education that is right for them will be my top priority.

 

1. Building on Governor Brian Sandoval’s Accomplishments in K-12 Public Education

First and foremost, I want to assure Nevadans that the positive steps taken in recent years will be supported and promoted, not scaled back. For too long, Nevada’s public K-12 education system was failing our children. Governor Brian Sandoval took some important steps during his tenure that I believe put our state’s public education system on the path to a brighter future. I will build on those successes as Governor. I support a variety of different approaches to educating our kids, but a strong, effective and accountable public education system must be a central part of our approach.

✯ Early-Literacy Reforms: One of the biggest challenges facing our education system is the need to improve literacy among our young students. Research consistently shows that achieving literacy early in life is crucial to future academic success. Fortunately, a series of reforms and programs have been implemented in recent years with the goal of enhancing early-age literacy, including Read by 3rd Grade, Zoom Schools, Victory Schools, and Weighted Student Funding. I will continue to champion these new programs.

✯ Funding: Building and maintaining a high-quality public education system requires the right resources. As Governor, I will ensure that Nevada’s public education system is properly funded — we will never go backwards from our current levels of education spending.

I applaud Nevada’s policymakers, especially Governor Sandoval, for their unwavering commitment to improving public education here in Nevada. I believe the steps they have taken have started us on the right track. As Governor, I look forward to building on their success and continuing to create the first-rate public education system our children need and deserve.

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2. First-Of-Its-Kind Education Checkbook

One of the most important things we must do is ensure that we are investing our education dollars efficiently and effectively, and as Governor, I will demand increased accountability for education spending. We owe our students, our parents, and the hard-working Nevadans whose tax dollars fund our education system nothing less.

In particular, I will work toward the creation of a statewide, online system that provides Nevadans complete and accurate information on how and where all of our public education dollars are being spent.

This unprecedented new level of transparency — an online “Education Checkbook” — will apply to every school district in the state and will represent a crucial step toward ensuring we are funding education in a way that best promotes student achievement.

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3. Rewarding Nevada’s Teachers

A quality education starts with a good teacher. The hard work and dedication of our professional educators are far too often overlooked. That is why I made it a priority to meet and talk with teachers across our state about the challenges they face. I wanted to hear their concerns and find out how we can better equip them to perform their important work. A big component of that is recognizing we have a responsibility to acknowledge and reward those teachers who go beyond the call of duty in the classroom. As Governor, I will support a number of policies designed to do exactly that.

✯ Doubling The Reimbursements For Teachers’ Out-Of-Pocket Spending: Nevada law currently allows teachers up to $250 per school year in reimbursements for classroom supplies they pay for themselves. However, the teachers I have talked with have revealed that this is well below what most end up actually paying. Even worse, teachers end up receiving less than half the allowed amount because not enough money has been allocated to fully fund the reimbursements. As Governor, I will support reforms to this policy that will 1) double the allowed amount that teachers are able to be reimbursed for classroom expenses, from $250 per year to $500 per year and 2) ensure that adequate funding is allocated, so that teachers can receive the full amount allowed, and mandate that school districts provide those full reimbursements.

✯ Making School Districts Honor Promises To Give Raises To Teachers Who Complete Further Professional Training And Accreditation: Many teachers pursue further education, training and/or accreditation to help increase their effectiveness in the classroom. I believe it is important that school districts and teacher unions have the flexibility to provide raises for teachers who take this step and should have the ability to determine at the local level which types of training and accreditation would be tied to a raise. However, it is crucial that once these raises are agreed to in a contract, school districts honor the promises they have made. As Governor, I will support legislation mandating that the school districts set aside the funds designated for these pay raises, ensuring that the money is not used for purposes other than those intended.

✯ Recognizing Schools For Excellence: In addition to teachers, many other individuals play an important role in the success of a school. When a school excels, we should take notice. As Governor, I will support a new program that will recognize a number of schools each year for outstanding performance within their school category, such as best Victory School, best Title 1 School, best Charter School, etc. The schools would get personal recognition from the Governor and also receive a monetary award for their high performance.

The monetary award would be set in a way that recognizes the principal, teachers, and others at the school who deserve credit for the school’s outstanding performance. Of course, this includes the students themselves — and a portion of the funds would be designated to go toward a “student appreciation day.” A crucial component of this program would be holding these schools up as “models” for other schools to follow and emulate. It is extremely important that we not only determine which schools are performing at a high level, but also work with those top schools’ leaders to understand why they are excelling so that we can replicate their best practices elsewhere.

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4. Giving Our Students More Opportunity for Success

While we work to improve our traditional public system, we must also recognize that many students can benefit enormously from alternative educational approaches. Giving parents more choice as to how and where their children are educated is an important component of any quality education system for two reasons: 1) every child is different, with unique educational needs and challenges and 2) more competition among schools creates a strong incentive for those schools to provide the best education possible. There are a number of ways I will look to expand educational options as Governor.

✯ Charter Schools: Charter schools are among the most successful educational models for a number of reasons. They have more autonomy to implement new, innovative approaches to education; they are subject to greater accountability for performance; and they offer parents a genuine choice, meaning schools must compete for students. As Governor, I will fight for reforms that will strengthen our charter school community and increase student access to charter schools.

Faster Approval Process: I support speeding up the approval process for new charter schools to open, especially those already affiliated with top-performing schools. I believe we should fast-track the approval process for charter schools with a demonstrated record of high-quality educational outcomes in Nevada and/or other states, by removing institutional and financial barriers to their establishment.

Accountability: We must ensure accountability for poor performance by speeding up the process by which poorly performing schools are identified and closed.

Nevada’s charter school system is well positioned to flourish because it offers the opportunity for parents to find the unique educational approach that is right for each child, while being held accountable for results. The reforms I support will help us realize that potential.

✯ Opportunity Scholarships and Education Savings Accounts: I support an expansion of Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship program so that more students will have access to funding in order to pursue different educational options. As Governor, I will work to expand the program by taking the following steps:

Double The Cap: Doubling the cap on available tax credits to $64 million per biennium, which will bring Nevada more in line with some of the most successful programs in other states.

More Applicable Taxes: Expanding the types of taxes toward which the credit may be applied.

More Ways To Use Funds: And expanding the approved uses for scholarships from tuition to any education-related expense, including uniforms, books, tutors, special needs programs, transportation, and more.

I also support Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) as one of the best ways to provide more educational options to parents and students. I was proud to lead the successful legal fight to establish the constitutionality of ESAs at the Nevada Supreme Court and I will continue to support ESAs as Governor.

In addition, I am firmly committed to upholding the freedoms for Nevada’s homeschooling community that our state laws and Constitution currently guarantee.

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5. Developing The Teachers Of Tomorrow

I will address Nevada’s critical teacher shortage by working to create a new Nevada Teaching Fellows Program called “Tomorrow’s Teachers” — a teacher preparation and scholarship program that recruits top Nevada high school students into the field of teaching.

✯ Under my plan, students will receive a stipend/scholarship to pursue a degree from a Nevada university or college in areas where we face critical teacher shortages, including but not limited to S.T.E.M., special education, and ELL.

✯ The students agree that upon graduation, they will teach for a set number of years in a Nevada district school. Failure to complete the contract would require the student to pay back the scholarship with interest.

This innovative approach will go a long way toward addressing Nevada’s teacher shortage and will ensure that more of our students have access to highly qualified teachers in some of the most critical areas of education.

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6. Preparing Students for the Future

One of the long-overlooked and under-appreciated areas of Nevada’s education system is Career and Technical Education (CTE). It is time to fully embrace CTE as a crucial and highly valuable component of education in our state. For many students, attending a traditional four-year university is not the ideal course to pursue after graduating high school. These students can achieve better success after graduation by entering the workforce. CTE offers a particularly promising opportunity to broaden educational options and to equip students with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce after graduation. Strengthening our CTE programs will also provide Nevada’s employers with even greater access to the skilled workers they need to allow their businesses to grow and thrive.

✯ I will work to allocate more funding to develop and expand high-quality CTE programs to provide more of our students with access to the opportunities CTE can offer.

✯ I will pursue opportunities to partner with the business community, along with seeking grant opportunities, in order to better fund CTE programs. Working with businesses to invest in career and technical education will be a cornerstone of my approach.

✯ I will also continue to support, and look for ways to expand, an important program called Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG). JAG is targeted toward high school students who face any of a number of particular challenges in either graduating high school or succeeding after graduation, such as learning challenges, an unstable home environment, and others. Under this program — the goals and focus of which are closely aligned with those of CTE — specialists work with these students to prepare them to succeed in the workforce, equipping them with a number of practical skills, including job-interview and application preparation, as well as others.

I have no doubt that Nevada is poised for an economic boom if we can produce the workforce we need. I believe that providing our students with a clear pathway to success and creating a new generation of career-ready Nevadans will help make Nevada’s next chapter our best yet.

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7. Structural Reforms

One of the most crucial steps we need to take to improve educational performance in Nevada is implementing measures that will increase accountability — particularly for our two largest school districts. To achieve this end, I support a shift in the way school board members are chosen for Clark and Washoe counties. Under my proposed approach:

✯ For Clark and Washoe counties, I support shifting to a system where school boards contain a mix of elected and appointed trustees, with a majority of members for each board being elected. The process for selecting school board members for each of the other 15 school districts would remain as it is today.

✯ Appointed trustees would be subjected to a retention election, in which voters would choose whether to retain trustees or remove them from office. For those who are voted out, replacement trustees would be appointed.

✯ A set of professional criteria would be established regarding who can qualify to serve as the appointed trustees for Clark and Washoe counties.

This approach would prioritize citizens’ crucial role in choosing trustees, as a majority in both of the affected school districts would still be directly elected by voters. But I believe this new system will place additional accountability on local elected governments for ensuring school district governance is improved, and will ensure that school boards include members with particular areas of expertise and background that will help improve the boards’ effectiveness.

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8. School Safety

Our children must always feel safe in our schools. We cannot expect them to do well if they are afraid when they walk into the classroom. Making sure our state is safer — especially our schools — will be a top focus for me as Governor.

My Attorney General’s office convened a law enforcement summit in March to bring together law enforcement and education officials across the state to identify gaps in the system that could lead to a tragedy in one of our schools. At this summit, we addressed many important areas to enhance school safety, including:

✯ Training and protocols for responding to active shooters

✯ Enhancing security measures to make our schools safer

✯ Examining whether we have enough law enforcement officers to keep our schools safe

✯ Identifying how schools and law enforcement can better share information

✯ Exploring how predictive analytics can be used to identify future threats to our schools

✯ Establishing mobile law enforcement and mental health teams

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Fighting For Our Children’s Future

As your Governor, I will not rest until every child has access to a quality education.
They deserve nothing less.

 

JOIN THE TEACHERS FOR LAXALT EDUCATION COALITION