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Nevada’s first lady touts early education drive

CARSON CITY — Nevada first lady Kathleen Sandoval kicked off an early education initiative Tuesday, calling on businesses and civic organizations to help young children prepare for a lifetime of learning.

Sandoval was joined by education, business and law enforcement leaders at the Governor’s Mansion to launch Strong Start Nevada, part of a nationwide effort. She made a similar pitch last month in Las Vegas.

Sandoval said Nevada is the only state that does not have a business-backed effort promoting early learning. She noted that a Las Vegas business group is among those now supporting the program.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and state lawmakers committed more money to early learning programs last year, but the first lady said businesses and communities also share the responsibility to help youth succeed.

“It’s not just government’s responsibility to educate our children,” she said. “It’s the community’s responsibility. It’s the parents’ responsibility. That’s what this is about.”

About 70 percent of Nevada children do not attend preschool, and 75 percent of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading, reports show.

The governor’s two-year budget approved by lawmakers in 2013 added $120 million in general funds to public schools, the first increase since the recession. About $328 million was targeted to reduce class sizes in early grades, and $50 million was set aside for early English language learner programs.

Pedro Martinez, Washoe County schools superintendent, was among those joining the first lady to support the initiative.

He said studies show children’s ability to learn is largely determined by the time they reach first grade.

“If we were able to intervene early it would be the smartest investment we can have,” he said.

Carson City School District Superintendent Richard Stokes agreed.

He said that at the start of 2013 Carson City only had a few full-day kindergarten programs. But when programs were expanded, the number of young students reading at grade level jumped to 61 percent from 13 percent the year before.

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong and Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick talked about the cost to society. When children don’t learn to read and write, many turn to crime and end up in jails or prison.

Furlong said seven out of 10 inmates don’t have a high school diploma.

“By investing in high-quality early education and care, we can lay the foundation for success among our children while preventing crime,” Furlong said in a report released at Tuesday’s event.

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