Recently, the Review Journal reported again on the chronic teacher shortage in the Clark County School District, the nation’s fifth-largest. More than halfway through the school year, at least 700 positions remain unfilled, with more than three quarters of the vacancies in high poverty schools. Nearly a third are for special education teachers.
Aggressive recruitment has had some success. Yet low pay, poor working conditions and rising enrollments make it difficult to attract and retain effective teachers. Thousands of students are in classrooms lacking a properly licensed teacher.
The teacher shortage is just one of the challenges the district faces as it struggles to provide quality education to 320,000 students.
It’s no secret that many Clark County schools are over-capacity. Buildings need repair and system upgrades. Bilingual and special education services are lacking. Quality preschool, extended learning time and help for at-risk students are in short supply.
It’s also no secret that the way Nevada funds public education is outmoded and inadequate. In the Education Law Center’s “National Report Card, Is School Funding Fair?” Nevada consistently ranks in the bottom 10 states on funding level and receives an F for failing to fund the needs of poor children. Nevada also gets an F on investing in education, despite an improving economy.
Simply put, the basic building blocks of a sound education are not in place. Qualified teachers and support staff, gifted and talented programs, and other essential services are not available or stretched thin. The need for resources to prevent students from falling behind or dropping out is urgent.
That’s why taking funds from public schools to pay for private school vouchers, or so-called Education Savings Accounts, will not help students. State Treasurer Dan Schwartz says he will cut at least $17 million from public education to fund ESAs in 2016 alone. The Treasurer also knows public schools will lose more and more dollars every year to ESAs, disrupting school budgets and forcing deeper cuts to teachers and programs.
Research from other states show that vouchers don’t improve public schools. And Nevada is the first state to divert funding provided by the Legislature for public schools to vouchers, making it that much harder to give all students the education they deserve.
What Clark County children don’t need is even more teacher vacancies, fewer qualified teachers, less support staff and more cuts to vital programs. By taking funds from tight district budgets, ESAs mean less opportunity for academic success and less chance to improve public schools.
Last month, District Judge James Wilson in Carson City issued an injunction blocking the voucher law because it diverts public school funding to private schools, in violation of the Nevada Constitution. Judge Wilson got it right. ESAs will hurt Nevada public school children. Let’s hope the courts continue to see it that way.
— David G. Sciarra is executive director of the Education Law Center, a partner of Educate Nevada Now! and the Rogers Foundation.