Income, outgo—grasp the concept

Going to school should not cost you your life. That basic premise is one we can all agree upon, even as we watch in horror as one school shooting follows another. As our children are maimed and killed, the grisly events are well-documented by the ever-present cable newscasts that have become as predictable as the thoughts and prayers offered by elected officials.

Government loves nothing as much as a task force to find solutions to intractable problems, so it’s unsurprising that several have sprung up in Nevada focused on school safety. Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Governor Brian Sandoval have both convened groups to consider the issue, with Laxalt beating the Governor to the punch, releasing a 32-page plan in late June, after he convened a school safety summit.

Laxalt, who is now running for governor on a nonsensical platform of saving Nevada from California, wants to repeal Sandoval’s tiny corporate tax, saying there’s plenty of money for education. But his school safety report lays out numerous areas where school safety improvements are needed, and most of them will require more money. Laxalt wants school police at every site, and he wants to retrofit school buildings to create single-entry points, more perimeter fencing and better security camera systems. He wants better planning and communication between schools and local police, more effective active-assailant training and better information-sharing of “red flag” mental health and domestic violence data.

How will Laxalt pay the healthy price tag for his school safety ideas if he succeeds in decreasing education funding? He gave a non-answer to a reporter from the Las Vegas Review Journal, saying funding decisions would be a “balancing act” the next governor and legislature will have to manage. In other words, he doesn’t know.

Sandoval’s task force was created by executive order last March and is chaired by former state superintendent of public instruction Dale Erquiaga. The task force recently released its initial recommendations and will continue working to refine them to no more than 10 for its final report to the governor, due at the end of November.

The first report contains a variety of recommendations in three major areas: behavioral health, improved school infrastructure, and additional school police. The task force wants schools to conduct realistic school safety drills; prepare detailed school safety plans, including recovery strategies; and develop closer relationships between school personnel and law enforcement. It’s recommended that schools teach social-emotional skills to help students cope with life and relationship problems.

One of the most substantial recommendations is to establish recommended ratios for school psychologists, counselors and social workers to ensure there are sufficient mental health professionals available to students. Nevada has traditionally resisted such ratios because population growth then drives demand for automatic budget increases. That is, as more children are enrolled in our schools, there is automatically need for more mental health support. While that seems rather obvious, Nevada is famous for pretending that growth pays for itself, therefore leaders assume funding will be generated to meet the needs of a growing population. Since this never proves to be true, our policymakers have an inherent reluctance to adopt staffing ratios.

Budgetary recommendations to improve school safety will have to go through the state budget process and be supported by the new governor and the 2019 Legislature. And as obvious as it might appear that more mental health professionals are needed in our schools, it does not necessarily follow that the recommendation will be supported with a commensurate budget increase.

After all, how can we afford more school counselors and psychologists when there are tax credits we have to pay to keep Tesla, Apple, Switch, the Raiders and the phantom Nevada film industry happy? Priorities, people. Ω