Gov. Brian Sandoval sent the Legislature a relatively bold set of education reforms this year. But the Legislature, dominated by Democrats who have long treated the teacher unions as their most favored constituency, initially buried them all.
Then, last week, a state Supreme Court ruling that threw out a past state money grab created a $650 million hole in the governor’s budget.
The governor then indicated that he might be willing to extend some taxes that were scheduled to sunset this month if, in exchange, legislative Democrats would revive and enact some of his education reforms.
On Wednesday, lawmakers and the governor reached a budget deal — one that holds the line on spending while not imposing the slew of brand-new levies Democrats sought.
But on education reform the governor didn’t get much.
For instance, Gov. Sandoval sought one-year contracts for teachers, ending teacher tenure and requiring written evaluations of both beginning and veteran teachers.
Lawmakers agreed to extend the probationary period before a teacher receives tenure from one to three years. Administrators can now theoretically fire ineffective teachers, but only after three years of poor evaluations. And after two years of “below average” evaluations, a tenured teacher would go back on probationary status.
That’s a lot of years of bad teaching.
The governor sought an end to “last in, first out” layoffs, which compel districts to retain their most senior teachers regardless of performance. He got half a loaf: The revised bill says other factors to be considered include performance evaluations, degrees (which have not been shown to correlate with student achievement) and disciplinary records.
This is a modicum of progress.
But plenty of the governor’s agenda ended up in the scrap heap, including:
— A constitutional amendment to allow vouchers.
— Ending social promotion by requiring students to pass a reading test to advance to the fourth grade.
— Requiring Nevada school districts to develop open enrollment policies.
– Requiring that at least 50 percent of written teacher evaluations be based on student achievement data.
— A merit pay pilot program.
— Block grants for schools, which would let them decide how to spend some money to boost achievement.
— Tearing down the state’s school governance structure, making members of the State Board of Education appointed rather than elected.
Gov. Sandoval, to his credit, sought bold reform and innovation. Legislative Democrats dug in their heels and fought to protect the status quo, regardless of what it does to the academic achievement of Nevada kids.
Can some of these reforms still be instituted at the local level? Let’s hope so. But Gov. Sandoval has plenty of work to do to make his vision for education a reality.