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City rightly helps fund Downtown Achieves

I appreciate the Review-Journal’s commitment to focusing taxpayer resources where they are most effective. In fact, my conversations with your editorial board helped inspire our school district’s initiative to partner with local business leaders to develop tools that measure return on investment.

However, I would like to chime in with a different point of view on your Wednesday editorial, “Mission creep: City overreaches with Downtown Achieves.”

If we really want to transform our schools, the school district needs help from our entire community. Our district action plan, The Pledge of Achievement, is based on a call to our community to support our efforts and ensure the success of “every student in every classroom.”

While our district is filled with dedicated and talented people, the challenges we face — growing student poverty and homelessness, increasing numbers of English language learners, overcrowded schools with no money to build new ones — are just too much to overcome on our own.

There still seems to be a lack of understanding of the correlation between poverty and academic success in our community. The impact is real. For example, about 35 percent of students who are poor and not reading by the third grade will drop out of school, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. That same study found that about 22 percent of children who live in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared with an average of 6 percent of those who have never been poor.

Thankfully, a growing number of community leaders, elected officials and business leaders recognize this problem and have offered help. Las Vegas Downtown Achieves is one of those organizations.

Downtown Achieves is a collective impact program that gathers community resources to support the needs of students in our downtown Las Vegas schools. Downtown Achieves is a rally cry to our community to address barriers to academic success, so that children can focus on learning and teachers can focus on teaching.

The program positions Nevada to be a national leader to increase academic success at minimal cost to taxpayers. The city’s partially funded $75,000 position for an executive to lead Downtown Achieves is small in comparison to the return on investment we expect to see in support to our students.

It’s the city’s job to revitalize our economy. However, the city cannot create jobs, attract businesses and generate revenue without an educated workforce and schools that attract families. If Downtown Achieves leverages support from our community to improve academics, the program will ultimately aid the city’s efforts to transform downtown Las Vegas.

We asked our community to “take the pledge” to support our schools, and I am pleased that the city of Las Vegas and other partners involved in Downtown Achieves have responded to our call. Increasingly, I hear from business and community leaders that they will support and advocate for our schools in the upcoming legislative session, including calling for targeted increases to education funding, such as universal full-day kindergarten, funds to build new schools and relieve overcrowding, and increased funding for students who cost more to educate, such as students living in poverty or those who are learning English.

I am grateful that our local leaders recognize that the fate of our community is dependent upon our young people doing well and staying in school. We have the vision and momentum to improve our schools, and I hope that additional organizations will work with us to dedicate resources and support to our students.

Pat Skorkowsky is superintendent of the Clark County School District.

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