September 23, 2023 - 9:00 pm
Gov. Joe Lombardo has talked a good game about holding the state’s public schools accountable for their performance. But so far that’s all it’s been — talk. Last week brought more of the same.
On Thursday, the governor held a news conference to announce his “Acing Accountability” proposal, which creates a system intended to measure math and literacy progress in state school districts. This comes just months after Gov. Lombardo teamed with Democrats in the Legislature to appropriate an additional $2.5 billion in funding for Nevada’s public schools over the next two years.
“With this historic funding, however, comes unprecedented accountability,” the governor said last week.
This echoes his 2023 State of the State address in January, when Gov. Lombardo first proposed the additional education spending. “Along with this funding,” he said during the address, “I expect results. I won’t accept a lack of funding as an excuse for underperformance. I’ll be working with the state superintendent to ensure our systems of accountability and transparency are robust and enforced. And if we don’t begin seeing results, I’ll be standing here in two years calling for systematic changes to the governance and leadership in K-12 education.”
Yet for all the hubbub about “accountability,” this latest initiative, as announced, does little to actually accomplish it.
Under the new program, districts will be pressured to meet certain performance goals as they pertain to reading and math scores, college and career preparatory standards, school staffing and other areas. Districts will be expected to boost reading and math proficiency scores by 5 percentage points.
But while the benchmarks are new and useful, this isn’t much different than previous systems in which test scores were used to assess individual school performance.
Most notably, however, the governor has yet to announce how districts and the state public school system will be held “accountable” if they fail to achieve these goals. Instead, Gov. Lombardo has said only that his administration is looking at options for the 2025 legislative session.
But how will progress be achieved when districts are allowed to gorge on the taxpayer carrots without the threat of the stick? The governor has yet to articulate an answer, other than to hint that he favors an expansion of school choice. That would certainly be a positive move, but Democrats dominate the Legislature — they may even have supermajorities in both houses next session — and they have for decades been openly hostile to the idea of holding the education establishment responsible for the state’s dismal academic rankings. Democratic lawmakers have also made it clear that they would prefer to keep Nevada students trapped in failing public schools than support choice initiatives that provide alternatives for parents and kids.
We await Gov. Lombardo’s suggestions on concrete measures to hold public school districts accountable for their results. But history — and politics — tells us that any such proposals will be met with fierce opposition from Democrats and progressives who prefer that taxpayers cough up billions in new education funding and then turn a blind eye to what they get in return. At this point, the governor faces the very real possibility that these massive new “investments” in the state’s public schools won’t be burdened by any true “accountability” measures at all.