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VICTOR JOECKS: Why more money won’t fix Nevada education

Union officials have made an effective case that more money won’t improve Nevada’s failing education system. Don’t expect them to realize that outcome, though.

On Monday, the Clark County Education Association released the results of a poll showing Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara is deeply unpopular. His favorability rating is just 14 percent, with 51 percent disapproving. A plurality of the poll favored firing Jara. Last month, the union put out a member survey showing 75 percent of respondents didn’t have confidence that he could improve student outcomes.

Jara has indeed been terrible. One of his top priorities after taking the job was gutting school discipline over a misplaced concern about racial disparities. That fueled a dramatic increase in school violence. He pushed through the district’s dumbed-down grading policies, including the minimum F. This has caused even previously high-achieving students to blow off homework and learn less. Unsurprisingly, test scores have plummeted. But at least the district is teaching students to role-play asking each other for sex.

These terrible policies have contributed to a mass teacher exodus. The district had more than 1,450 teacher openings to start the school year. Students are leaving, too. The district is shrinking as families escape to charter schools or private options. In another sad irony, Jara’s race-obsessed tenure has been especially destructive for African American and Hispanic students. But the left won’t call this systemic racism.

Jara has had a couple of good ideas. He wants to pay teachers bonuses to work at understaffed schools. The union, however, isn’t interested.

The union is right that Jara’s leadership is lacking. But its call to action doesn’t fit that diagnosis. It wants state lawmakers to increase education funding by $2 billion, which its survey found had widespread public support.

The disconnect should be obvious. If you think Jara is doing a terrible job, showering his district with cash is the ultimate perverse incentive. Imagine if your boss gave a co-worker a deservedly negative performance review and a 25 percent increase in his project budget. That wouldn’t make sense. The union is obviously gunning for Jara to be fired, but it doesn’t want more funding to hinge on it.

This is why school choice is so important. Families can’t solve the school district’s problems. Politicians have failed at that task for decades. School choice programs, such as Opportunity Scholarships, allow parents to find a good school for their own children.

Some opponents claim this would be the death of public schools. Think about the unstated assumption there. Public schools offer an inferior product, and parents would leave if they had a chance. That’s reason enough to support school choice. In reality, school choice improves performance in public schools. Because they know students can leave, district leaders and unions must work together to improve their product. This is why Gov. Joe Lombardo must insist Democrats agree to pair increased spending with a substantial boost in Opportunity Scholarships.

More money won’t improve Nevada education, but school choice can.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com

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