K-12 success hinges on collaboration of business community, educators

The state of Nevada is facing an education crisis. Anyone who has lived in this state for any length of time knows this. When it comes to K-12 education, Nevada is at the bottom of all the good lists, and the top of all the bad lists. Nevada’s high school graduation rate is one of the lowest in the country, and the state’s achievement gap is one of the highest. By any measure, Nevada is not serving its children well, especially children in poverty and in at-risk schools.

No one group is to blame for our state’s shortcomings in K-12 education; we all are responsible. Over the course of decades, the lack of communication and collaboration between key constituencies has led to distrust and misunderstanding. Too often, powerful interests within Nevada’s business community have opposed increased revenues for K-12 education because they perceived that additional funding would not demonstrably improve its quality. Too often, Nevada’s education community has called for massive increases in education funding without appropriate accountability measures to ensure that resources go to the children they were meant to serve. One such example is Question 3, the Education Initiative, also known as the margins tax.

The margins tax was born out of frustration and inaction. In 2012, frustrated by the lack of action to stem state budget cuts and properly fund education, the teachers union solicited signatures to put the tax on the ballot. The citizens of the state of Nevada recognized, rightly, that our education system does not meet the needs of many of our children, so they gave the teachers union the requisite number of signatures to put the tax on the ballot. Unfortunately, few of the petition’s signators likely recognized the significant and detrimental effects the margins tax would have on our economy. So now the business community and the teachers union are standing in opposition, each ready to spend tens of millions of dollars bludgeoning one another with television ads until the matter is decided.

As the regional economic development authority for Southern Nevada, the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance recognizes that a strong education system is vital to a strong and globally competitive regional economy. But there should be no confusion where our organization stands on the margins tax. We strongly oppose it. Yet as economic development leaders, we cannot simply say no to more funding for education. That is why we have been exploring alternatives to the margins tax that would appropriately fund education while minimizing the effect on the economy.

Economic development is inextricably linked to education, and education to economic development. In order to compete in the global economy, we need a skilled and entrepreneurial workforce, but in order for our K-12 education system to be successful, Nevada’s parents need good jobs that enable them to take a more active role in their children’s education. We need to find a middle road that appropriately funds education while minimizing the effects to our economy. That’s why we’re calling on education leaders, including the teachers union, to join with us to find smart funding solutions for our K-12 education system.

Some pundits will say this letter is a sign that the business community is afraid it is going to lose the margins tax debate. Quite the contrary. We would submit that we’re not interested in simply winning a debate or arguing for arguing’s sake; we’re interested in finding the right solution for our children. Someone has to take the first step. It is time for a Nevada solution to a Nevada problem.

Education and economic development are not partisan issues, and if we work together, we will likely find that we have many shared values and interests. We know that we cannot agree to the margins tax, but as leaders in the community, the LVGEA knows that most thoughtful businesses are willing to make proactive strategic investments in our education system to secure our economic future for long-term sustainability. Will the teachers union join us at the table?

Tom R. Skancke is president and CEO of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance. Glenn Christenson is chairman emeritus of the LVGEA, co-chair of the LVGEA Education Council and principal of Velstand Investments.