In my State of the State address, I committed to taking the steps necessary to get every Nevada child to read at grade level by third grade. As more resources have become available, I have continued to invest in our children’s education. Our approach is comprehensive and includes school choice, first-ever funding for English language learner programs, and expansion of all-day kindergarten and a reduction in the class sizes for kindergarten through third grade.
As the legislative session moves toward its conclusion, I am pleased to say that we are making tremendous strides for our kids. My budget now proposes almost half a billion dollars more in total education funding than the last biennium — without raising taxes.
We are making monumental investments in our children. Under the proposed education budget, overall per- pupil spending is rising, we’ve provided additional pay funding for teachers and have dedicated funds for the Kenny Guinn Millennium Scholarship so our state’s children can continue to realize the opportunity for a college education. But that is not all.
I’ve said many times that the demographics of our schools have changed over the past few years. Today, more than 15 percent of our students are English Language Learners. In the Clark County School District alone, there are 50,000 ELL students representing more than 150 languages. The challenges these students confront are wholly different from those faced by their peers, yet our obligation to them is no less important. In order for reading levels, graduation rates, and college readiness to improve, we need to appropriately focus on and help these students. My education budget proposes $50 million for English language learner programs throughout the state. This is the first time in our state’s history that a governor has dedicated funding specifically for ELL and I am proud to have done so.
As we seek to educate our children and ensure that all students can read at grade level by grade three, an increasing number of families are looking for an all-day kindergarten program. If we expect children to read by grade three, we cannot continue to ignore all of the data that tells us all-day kindergarten is a critical foundation for a child’s success. My budget proposes to expand all-day K so that by 2015, 199 schools throughout Nevada will have an all-day K program. What’s more, my budget also proposes $39.5 million in additional funding for class-size reduction in kindergarten, reducing the average class size from 26 to 21.
These are significant steps — and they are steps to continue to build on. We’ve already seen progress from the reforms we passed during the 2011 legislative session and we are seeing progress in improving outcomes for our students. In fact, as I visit schools across our great state, I am seeing these signs of progress. Last year, graduation rates in Clark County rose, third-graders in Washoe County posted their highest reading scores ever, and high school math and science performance across the state increased.
However, we can go further. In addition to these investments in our state’s children, we have introduced legislation to create an opportunity scholarship to help provide school choice for students in low-performing schools. This scholarship will be means tested and will be paid for through private donations to help further the goal of providing an exceptional education to all of Nevada’s children.
Nevada is on the move. We are putting kids first, improving the delivery of education and investing in our future without raising taxes. I look forward to working with legislative leadership to accomplish these goals and end the legislative session on time.
Republican Brian Sandoval is governor of Nevada.