By Paul Klein, The Nevada Independent, June 24th, 2023
Nevada’s legislative session has come and gone, and like Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” heralding the mornings of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, the topic of education funding was on an endless echo. As it should be. Nevada continues to rank last or the penultimate in every metric that purports effective educational outcomes. Pick a foundation that tracks and publishes education rankings, or prompt ChatGPT, Nevada will be at the bottom of the list.
We can now also live with the title of being one of the “least educated states in America,” according to Scholaroo. You’ve heard all this before. I’m now adding to the echo on education that’s become as familiar as Goofy’s falling-off-a-cliff yell. This continued amplification underlines that a vast majority of us have a shared philosophy: Quality education supports positive opportunities for Nevada’s youth from life direction to income potential to healthier living and more, and that’s why investing and improving public education must continue to be a top priority in Nevada.
However, as the state allocates more funding and resources to public education, it’s counterproductive to dim the light on a consistent shining star of the Nevada public education system: public charter schools. Nevada’s public charter school system educates approximately 61,000 kids. Each school has a local school board, and the system is highly regulated by the state’s Public Charter School Authority. Public charter schools get less state funding, no facility funding, have no transportation system and receive little to no appreciation or acknowledgement for their innovation and resourcefulness. Yet, these public schools continue to rank at the top of all schools in Nevada. Even still, when the Legislature debated Senate Bill 231 to give public school teachers raises, public charter school teachers were deliberately excluded.
It wasn’t the first time public charter schools have been treated as lessers. Legislative session after session, critics of public charter schools have pushed misinformation: that they are private, parochial, nondiverse and wealthy. All of which were and are patently false and unfair to say. Public charter schools are public, free and diverse.
Approximately 70 percent of Nevada’s public charter school students identify as American Indian, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander or other. Further, nearly half of Nevada’s public charter school students are considered economically disadvantaged. Public charter school families have to do more with less. But we continued to hear untrue attacks on public charter schools spewed throughout the Legislature — and sadly, it worked. The Legislature chose to exclude a group of public school teachers from pay increases simply because they teach at a public charter school.
It’s worth mentioning that there were several legislators who stood up, spoke out and declared the unfairness of SB231. This Super Mario moment was how a legislative budget fight created a tug-of-war over Nevada charter schools. However, much like the state police assigned to cover Northern Nevada, there just were not enough of them.
Overall, the Legislature and governor delivered big time for education, passing the largest funding increases to education in Nevada’s history. Spending on education programs was increased, per-pupil funding was increased, the Read by Grade 3 initiative was reinstated, funding for early childhood literacy was increased, and more was accomplished through Senate Bill 503.
Transportation funding for public charter schools was also allocated through Assembly Bill 400. Truly remarkable.
However, the stain of excluding a group of public school teachers sends a message that is counterproductive to what we’re all trying to achieve here. SB231 created a divide, valuing certain public school teachers more than others and, by default, devaluing 61,000 students for simply going to school in a different building.
The lesson to be learned is to treat people fairly. States we are chasing in educational rankings treat all their public school students, teachers and staff fairly and equitably.
Paul Klein is a lobbyist with TriStrategies, a Western states government relations and public affairs firm, representing public charter schools in Nevada.