Before moving to Nevada, look at schools

Business owners, before you move your company to Nevada, you should know a thing or two about Nevada schools. Perhaps you send your kids to private schools far away—so this doesn’t apply to you. But it might matter to your employees and to your ability to hire bright, competent people to staff your offices, factories and warehouses.

We Nevadans claim to value education. But the proof is in the creamy dessert—and this pudding looks thin.

Nevada schools earned a grade of C on the 2007 report card recently released by the American Society of Civil Engineers Nevada Section: “Forty-two percent of the state’s schools have at least one inadequate building feature, 57 percent have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition, and the backlog of maintenance and repair in Clark County School District alone exceeds $1 billion.”

Safe buildings aren’t our only lack. Las Vegas schools are short 400 teachers. Educators can’t assign “detention” to unruly students because schools can’t afford babysitters for students in time-out.

Nevada legislators crafted a creative solution: Impose fines on parents for kids’ detentions. Senate Bill 245 would allow schools to nail moms and dads for something like $20 when naughty punks are sent to the corner.

Legislators say they have no choice. If schools can’t be funded, parents must be penalized.

Other schools aren’t worried about detention or fixing leaky roofs when teachers can’t afford neeed textbooks and classroom supplies. So some lawmakers are plugging a lottery to fund education. Assembly Joint Resolution 5, which amends the state constitution to allow a lottery, passed the Assembly last week and goes to the Nevada Senate.

State-sponsored gambling is a sticky wicket for Nevadans.

Democrats say a state lottery would benefit needy schools.

Republicans stake out the “moral” high ground, with the line about lotteries hurting poor people who are more enticed by get-rich-quick schemes. Like, ahem, lotteries. (But unlike, of course, Megabucks.)

By supporting a lottery, some Republicans argued, the state would be encouraging a “vice.”

Oddly enough, these same lawmakers didn’t cry “vice!” when Nevada casino corporations were handing out checks. Assembly Minority Leader Garn Mabey, R-Las Vegas, a lottery opponent, has received campaign contributions from the likes of the Venetian, Mandalay Resort Group, Herbst Gaming, Golden Nugget and the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers, to name a few. And speaking of vice, when tobacco giant Altria, aka Philip Morris, was cutting Mabey checks, he similarly didn’t object.

Mabey argues that those who play in lotteries are people who can least afford it. (Unlike those who gamble in casinos—who are rolling in dough.) He suggested Nevadans instead donate to a fund for education.

Hey, there’s an idea! We can send third graders through the neighborhoods with tin cans: “Alms for the schools, alms for the schools.”

Begging just might work. Because nothing else seems to. In 2005, our state found itself blessed with a budget surplus. The money could have helped our ailing schools. But instead of spending it wisely, legislators voted to send Nevadans a DMV rebate check. The month the checks arrived, casinos experienced—surprise!—a gambling boom.

We like to play. We don’t like to pay. During this legislative session, banks are fighting to roll back taxes imposed in 2003. If this happens, the state will be short another estimated $40 million. No need to note here that Nevada banks have experienced record profits in the past couple of years.

While our lawmakers figure out how to fund education without asking anyone but parents and lottery lovers for money, public school enrollment continues to grow. Collapse seems inevitable.

That’s something you, as a savvy business owner, should think about before packing your bags.