Democrats let politics trump education

The Assembly, controlled by Democrats, those stalwart advocates for improving education, passed on the opportunity to add 100 new teachers from the Teach for America program to work in at-risk schools in Clark County over the next two years.

Senate Bill 517, which died in the Assembly, was designed to invest $2 million in Teach for America, a national nonprofit, enough to add 50 teachers for each year.

As a result of the opposition in the Assembly, Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed lawmakers put the $2 million into the popular Millenium Scholarship program.

The 2013 Legislature not only did not enhance any K-12 programs beyond what was in the Republican governor’s budget, it took $2 million from a program to help at-risk children and gave it to higher education, which was happy to accept it.

In the switch, the money didn’t go for Southern Nevada, but is spread all over the state; so, in the fair-share struggle, the south lost once again.

The only testimony against the bill came from the Nevada State Education Association, the state teachers union.

Publicly, the teachers union and some Democrats opposed earmarking money for one nonprofit. The opponents also wanted to see the Clark County School District hire permanent teachers who would remain in Nevada.

Despite the union’s objections, the bill had Democratic support in the state Senate, where it passed 20-1, with only Las Vegas Democrat Tick Segerblom voting against it.

This was one of the programs Sandoval emphasized as a priority in his State of the State speech.

Teach for America takes recent college graduates who usually have degrees in areas other than education, puts them through a five-week program teaching them to teach, and places them in predominantly low-income areas. They commit to teach there for two years. Only 15 percent of applicants are accepted.

One Republican legislator shared with me that the bill was killed in the Assembly by Democrats kowtowing to the teachers union and tired of seeing Sandoval have everything going his way.

“The Democrats were winning on nothing,” the lawmaker said. “The governor was eating their lunch on everything.”

So they flexed their muscle by killing this bill.

“The governor didn’t want a political fight in the special session, which he wanted to keep short,” the lawmaker said.

So Sandoval suggested moving the $2 million to the Millenium Scholarship, where there is no means testing, one reason for its popularity.

Two members of the Nevada State Board of Education, Allison Serafin and Alexis Gonzales-Black, taught in Teach for America in other states.

Victor Wakefield, husband of Gonzales-Black, is executive director of the Teach for America program, which started in 2004 in the Las Vegas Valley. He said 68 percent of the teachers in the valley whose two-year commitment is over this year have signed up for a third year.

He is disappointed the bill didn’t pass, because it would have added 100 new teachers to the school district. Even without the $2 million, 400 Teach for America teachers and alums will be in classrooms this fall, Wakefield said.

The local Teach for America raised its entire $4.3 million budget from local donors.

Wakefield is trying to raise the lost $2 million from private donors.

“We had positive support from the school district, the state, principals, alumni and community leaders,” he said. “The only opposition was from the NSEA. They did say clearly they supported Teach for America. They know the program is effective, but they took issue with the funding.”

Since no one is lined up, Wakefield is “cautiously optimistic” about raising another $2 million.

Those same Assembly Democrats who insisted early childhood education had to be enhanced, not only did nothing to enhance it, but screwed the Clark County School District by killing this bill the district supported.

Shame on them for playing an end-of-session political game at the expense of at-risk children.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at or call her at 702-383-0275.

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