Nevada Tries to Wish Away the Strain

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Nevada legislative session appears headed to a disappointing end on the school choice front. Governor Sandoval backed away from his threat to veto the budget without funding for the ESA program, and a deal to increase the state’s modest tax credit program passed the Nevada Senate last night. Worse still, despite the wee-tiny Silver State charter sector a bill which appears replete with regulatory measures for charters are headed to Governor Sandoval’s desk. What do you do when you are the state with a catastrophic district overcrowding problem and the charter school tortoise of the region? More bureaucracy to the rescue!

Sigh.

In combination these actions signal an unwillingness to address Nevada’s K-12 challenges seriously. The overcrowding problem isn’t going away. The Review Journal reports that a majority of Clark County schools are over 100% capacity and they included this handy illustration:

 

Does this look like a state that should be only cautiously dabble with private parental choice? Should Nevada be rolling out the red carpet for charter school operators, or subjecting them to state-sponsored harassment? Can the new NFL football stadium being built for a billionaire be used for classroom space? From the Review Journal:

Of data for 344 schools, 230 are over capacity, according to the report. Among those schools, 68 are operating at 125 to 150 percent capacity and 35 are operating at 150 to 175 percent. Two are taking more than double their load, at over 200 percent.

Growing class sizes have been the result of both a budding population — particularly in the high-growth area of Henderson — and multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls.

Budget constraints in 2015-2016 increased class sizes in grades 4-12 by 0.5 students, saving $9.1 million, according to the district. Cuts in 2016-17 added one student in elementary classes and 1.5 students in secondary grades, saving $21.5 million.

That translates to a tight squeeze for teachers and students.

“I think (my son) has suffered, I’m sure he has,” said Rebecca Colbert, a Beatty Elementary parent who said her fifth-grade son is in a class of 39 students. “I know the teacher has. She’s been doing double work.”

8,000 students had filed applications to opt-in to the ESA program. This alone would not have solved Nevada’s overcrowding problems, but it certainly would have helped. The 2015 problems that prompted the NVESA program are larger in 2017 and will continue to worsen. The strain believes in Nevada, even if Nevada tries not to believe in the strain.

The NVESA program continues to exist in an unfunded state, awaiting the possibility of more enlightened leadership who are willing to take the steps necessary to get serious about Nevada’s K-12 problems.

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