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VICTOR JOECKS: Break up the Clark County School District

Decades of failure, incompetence, mismanagement and infighting may finally have caught up with the Clark County School District.

Last week, backers of an initiative to break up the district turned in more than 220,000 signatures. The effort, formally called the Community Schools Initiative, needs 141,000 signatures split among the four congressional districts. While official word probably won’t come for a few weeks, it appears it has enough valid signatures. In Nevada, initiatives go the Legislature first. If lawmakers don’t approve it, the proposal will go to voters in 2024.

If approved, the initiative would allow cities to form new school districts within their municipal boundaries. New school boards would govern the new districts. The initiative would leave in place current union contracts and bond obligations. New school districts could purchase services and products alone or with the county school district. The new districts could also decide to join the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association.

The need for alternatives to the Clark County School District is obvious. It starts with academic achievement. Even after gutting grading standards, a quarter of students received an F grade last school year. Only 41 percent of third- through fifth-graders are proficient in English. In math, it’s 31 percent. Not only are kids failing to learn, the district’s lax discipline policies have increased school violence.

If you need further proof that this is a good idea, look at the reaction from district Superintendent Jesus Jara. He didn’t try to claim that the district is doing a great job. Instead, it was all finger-pointing and excuses for its terrible performance. He fretted that a breakup would “increase taxpayer costs.” Funny. He didn’t have that same worry when he agreed to a hefty raise and multi-year contract extension.

Finally, he said, “Nevada must provide more funding and academic rigor to improve educational outcomes.”

That is laugh-out-loud funny. The guy who dumbed-down district grading standards now wants more academic rigor. And why hasn’t anyone ever tried to improve education by spending more money? Oh wait. Nevada has tried that for decades. It hasn’t worked, which is why there’s a push to break up the school district.

This initiative is a gift to Gov.-elect Joe Lombardo — if he’s willing to take it. Lombardo spokeswoman Elizabeth Ray says he “supports the initiative” but wants it “implemented in a thoughtful way.” It’s worth watching what those weasel words mean.

What Lombardo should do is champion this proposal while pushing for universal school choice. The Legislature has to consider this proposal within the first 40 days of the 2023 session. Either Lombardo passes a major school reform measure, or he and Republican legislative candidates get to tell voters how Democrats opposed it. That’s a win-win.

If Jara doesn’t want cities to form their own school districts, there’s an easy way to prevent it. Offer a high-quality product. But the district can’t — which is exactly why cities and students want and deserve the option to leave.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at noon with Kevin Wall on AM 670 KMZQ Right Talk. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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