State-proposed ‘Victory Schools’ for impoverished areas need flexibility

If Nevada ends up designating so-called “Victory Schools” for high-poverty areas of the Silver State, there won’t be a one-size-fits-all model for improving them.

Some would be in the urban core of Las Vegas, and others would dot remote, rural stretches of Nevada. Other Victory Schools would serve children from Native American reservations.

That’s why all Victory Schools need the flexibility to create plans for improvements and using the funding, State Super­intendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga said Thursday at the hearing for Senate Bill 432 before the Senate Committee on Education.

That bill would put nearly $50 million toward schools designated as Victory Schools across a two-year period. The hearing was the bill’s first and is among Gov. Brian Sandoval’s sweeping goals for education reform and funding in Nevada.

Erquiaga said it’s important for the roughly 35 schools that the state Department of Education picks to develop plans for community engagement.

“They have to identify the root cause, if you will, and they have to talk to their community about that,” he said.

That flexibility means that schools would have broad leeway in how it spends the funds. Examples in the legislation include prekindergarten programs, a summer academy, professional development, or social and health services.

Schools can also come up with other ideas on their own, which would be sent to the state Department of Education. All plans from the schools would need to detail how the money is spent.

Schools will be selected by looking at the U.S. Census Bureau’s federal poverty levels by ZIP code.

Schools will be drawn from 17 ZIP codes identified as high-poverty areas in Clark, Nye, Humboldt, Elko and Washoe counties.

The state Department of Education in January announced that Nevada has 78 underperforming schools, including 49 in the Clark County School District.

An independent auditor would evaluate the effectiveness of the Victory Schools, and the state could withhold money if school performance continues to be unsatisfactory, under the bill.

Testimony for the bill was widely supportive, coming from groups that included Clark County School District and charter school officials.

The Victory Schools bill is one piece of Sandoval’s broader initiatives for education reform. His plan also calls for the creation of an Achievement School District, which would involve a state takeover of an estimated six to 10 schools in Nevada. A separate bill, Assembly Bill 448, would create a process for identifying schools for the Achievement School District.

Erquiaga said that the Victory Schools are separate from the Achievement School District, noting the two sometimes get mixed up. He used a line from the 1977 film “Star Wars” to make his point about the distinction.

“If I could engage in a Jedi mind trick, I would say these are not those droids you’re looking for,” he said.

Contact Ben Botkin at or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.

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