A Chance For True Education Reform
John Oceguera and Debbie Smith
Over the past year, we brought together policy experts, business leaders, parents, teachers and principals to develop a comprehensive plan to improve Nevada’s education system. Based on those discussions, Democrats in the Legislature have introduced major education reform, taking the unique needs of Nevada’s education system and those of our state as a whole into account. Our education reform package includes reforming teacher tenure by:
• Including school administrators in evaluations, accountability, and merit pay.
• Creating a top-notch evaluation system that relies significantly on student achievement and improvement.
• Expanding probationary status for new educators from one to three years to provide more time to accurately evaluate their performance and provide them with instructional support.
• Expediting the process for midyear dismissals that can currently take as long as 18 months.
• Holding all post-probationary teachers and principals accountable for their performance by placing those who receive two negative evaluations back on probationary status.
In addition to reforming tenure, our education reform package includes:
• Establishing a pay-for-performance system to reward educators who improve student achievement.
• Expanding the grounds for immediate dismissal to include gross misconduct, and defining the concept.
• Increasing transparency regarding the number of administrators at each school and district.
• Providing an alternative route to licensing teachers and administrators.
The governor recently wrote two columns in the Reno Gazette-Journal about his education reforms, but he did not mention the impact his proposed cuts to education have on efforts to improve education. For example, he has proposed ending social promotion, a worthy goal, but also proposed to eliminate the requirement for class-size reduction in the early grades and full-day kindergarten. He proposes to cut funding for these two programs, as well as basic student support.
Real reform simply won’t work with the level of spending cuts proposed by the governor. Education Week already ranks Nevada last in the nation in giving students a chance for success. The U.S. Education Department ranks us 44th in the nation in per pupil spending. Now, the governor’s budget proposes a $1.2 billion cut to education, on top of cuts totaling half a billion dollars over the past two years.
That we face an unprecedented revenue shortfall is simply a fact. Cuts are inevitable, but we do not believe we have to make cuts this severe. Economists, policy experts, community and business leaders all tell us the same thing: We need more revenue for education. Nevada is listening; polls show us the public supports raising revenue to save education.
Representatives from TechAmerica, an important advocacy organization for high-tech business, met with us to tell us what they need before their businesses will consider investing in us. Before they consider coming to Nevada, they want to see us invest in ourselves first.
The Las Vegas and Reno Sparks Chambers of Commerce support our pursuit of additional revenue with corresponding education reforms because our economy cannot improve without strong schools and a well-educated workforce. Let us repeat: Big business and the two largest chambers of commerce in our state recognize the need to raise revenue for education.
Here’s where things stand at the Legislature. Legislative Democrats recognize we can’t do this alone, so we are at the table. We are talking about the needs of our state and a potential compromise on budget and revenue. The governor and our Republican friends across the aisle in the Legislature need to take a seat at the table and talk — something they have so far been unwilling to do.
Unfortunately, as we heard in the Committees of the Whole on K-12 and higher education, the governor and his allies in the Legislature will neither discuss nor debate, let alone compromise, on these issues. They are going to go with governor’s recommendation on the budget. We believe strongly, however, that we need to work together to find solutions, no matter what the issue.
We recognize that in these difficult times, we are going to have budget cuts accompanying our reform. But the cuts recommended by the governor — nearly $1.2 billion — are simply too deep. The GOP needs to take a seat at the table.
We need to find middle ground: a common sense budget and revenue package that restores proposed cuts to education while making meaningful reform to how we educate our kids. That’s what the public wants, and that’s what we must do.
John Oceguera, a Las Vegas Democrat, is speaker of the Assembly and Debbie Smith, a Sparks Democrat, is speaker pro tempore of the Assembly.