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Sisolak prepares to undo Sandoval’s education legacy

Over the next two years, Gov. Steve Sisolak plans to gut and eliminate Brian Sandoval’s major education reforms. It’s all to benefit the government unions who backed his campaign.

In 2015, then-Gov. Sandoval passed the largest tax increase in Nevada history to fund a series of education programs. They included Zoom and Victory Schools and Read by 3. These programs used categorical funding to pay for items such as longer school days and summer school. Most importantly, Sandoval excluded these funds from collective bargaining.

During the campaign, Sisolak overtly tied himself to Sandoval’s education legacy. He even used Sandoval in a campaign commercial. Sandoval, bitter over Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt’s opposition to the commerce tax, refused to endorse Laxalt. Sandoval told The New York Times that he “won’t support a candidate that is going to undo anything that I put forward.”

As I wrote at the time, Laxalt could never have reversed Sandoval’s agenda, even the commerce tax. Democrats control the Legislature. The most Laxalt could have accomplished was to block lawmakers from gutting Sandoval’s education reforms. In reality, it was the election of Sisolak, combined with Democrat control in Carson City, that posed the major threat to Sandoval’s legacy.

Less than three months after the election, Sisolak has now confirmed this.

“I would like to see the categoricals eliminated and moved into the (Distributive School Account) eventually,” Sisolak told liberal pundit Jon Ralston last week. Sisolak said he’d like to see money follow the student, instead of going only to select schools. He said he plans to make these changes during the 2021 legislative session because he doesn’t have enough time to do it in the next few months.

In a vacuum, Sisolak’s plan makes sense. It’s the child who has the challenge — whether it’s poverty or a lack of English proficiency — not the school. Allowing money to follow the child is even one of the arguments made by school-choice proponents. But here’s the difference: Under school choice, children have the ability to select the school or educational services that are best for them.

Children don’t get to do that in public schools. They can’t decide they want a longer school day or reading interventions. In public schools, “money follows the child” is code for moving money from use-restricted categories to the general fund. Once the money goes there, it’s subject to collective bargaining.

For instance, the Clark County School District has agreed that a minimum of 70 percent of new funding, after covering basic expenses, will go toward paying the same teachers more for doing the same thing. There won’t be money left over to pay teachers to work longer school days or staff summer school.

Sisolak also expressed skepticism about retaining children who can’t read after the third grade. Retentions under Sandoval’s Read by 3 program are scheduled to begin after next school year.

It may take two years, but Sisolak has made clear that a major part of his education plan is to erase Sandoval’s legacy.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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