Investment, reform and accountability for the New Nevada February 17th, 2015

By BRIAN SANDOVAL
SPECIAL TO THE LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

In my first inaugural address I spoke about the Nevada of my youth — a place of optimism and opportunity. Over the next four years, we worked together in every way to get Nevada working again, to rebuild an economy that was one of the hardest hit in the nation, and to begin to restore hope for our future. Although our success was never certain, we managed to build a state that was stronger, more stable, more nimble and more promising.

Even with the successes we achieved together, we have only started to build the foundation for our future potential. Our accomplishments are adequate but not sufficient to truly build a Nevada that we are proud of for the generations to come. Now we must invest wisely in efforts that will build upon our successes and reform systems and policies that have fostered failure for decades.

Last month I dedicated my second term to the children of our state. I stated that our greatest strategic investment is the education of our children. And I laid out my plan for a New Nevada through the improvement of our education system.

We can no longer afford to assume that each student’s needs are the same, so I have also proposed modernizing how we fund schools. My proposed budget calls for adding programs for special education, English Language Learners, students in poverty, and Gifted and Talented Learners. In making this investment, I have also ensured that these funds will provide the data we need to update our school funding formula, which has remained essentially unchanged since 1967 and does not reflect the diversity of our student needs.

I also believe that while we invest in the fundamentals of our system, we must also invest in change through competition and reforms. From charter schools to turnaround funding to right the ship at chronically underperforming schools, from social workers to deal with mental health crises to professional development funding for our teachers and principals, we are calling for a change to the ways schools do business. In fact, my budget demands these changes because I simply will not allow us to fail our students any longer.

The next portion of my plan comes through necessary investments in efforts that I believe will improve every aspect of the way we teach and the way our children learn. My proposed budget includes more than $800 million in new spending on public education, from preschool through doctoral programs. The additional funds will not simply be handed over to our failing system; rather it will be directly attached to accountability measures and the necessary reforms that will modernize the way we deliver education. This budget will ensure that we are spending our education investment in a smart way on proven, targeted programs. The Legislature is considering this investment strategy.

My plan includes efforts to support our most at-risk populations at both the beginning of the student’s education and at the end. For early learning, I have proposed preschool funding for our most at-risk population, not just those who can afford it; full-day kindergarten for families that want it; and literacy grants to support all students being able to read by third grade. For our middle school and high school students, I have called for an unprecedented investment in middle school instructional technology and support for Career and Technical Education; more dropout prevention programs like Jobs for America’s Graduates, which has proven successful for our students; college and career readiness funding for dual enrollment programs; and support for Advanced Placement course work.

The workforce of the New Nevada in which we are investing will demand more from our community colleges and universities. The New Nevada will demand a medical school in Las Vegas. It will demand performance-based funding to ensure that we have the highest quality product for our students, for our workforce, and for our communities. I have provided for all of these demands in my budget.

In calling for these investments and reforms, I expect results, just as all Nevadans should. In addition to my proposals to invest more in education are serious reforms to address literacy, chronic underperformance, school board and district accountability, collective bargaining, and efficiency and evaluation metrics. I also support Opportunity Scholarships to provide a tax incentive for private businesses that give funding to our poorest students to attend private school — without removing a single dollar from the Distributive School Account. I will support reasonable school choice efforts, too.

The debate in Carson City is already underway. The aggressive education reform plan I have proposed will require new funding, and I have put forth a plan for this as well. As one assemblywoman recently put it, we all seem to agree on why we simply must invest in education, now we must work on how we are going to do it.

Our children cannot advocate for themselves, and I refuse to make them wait any longer for us to provide them the opportunities they deserve. We must work deliberately, quickly, efficiently and collaboratively. The New Nevada demands it.