Suffer the children

To read the whole Quality Counts report, go to

Whenever a study comes out that portrays Washoe County in a poor light, the immediate reaction is usually to attack the study’s methodology. If that doesn’t work, community leaders often smugly blame Clark County for the state’s poor ranking, implying a certain superiority that naturally infuriates our southern citizens.

Such was the case recently with the publication of a new “Quality Counts” report in Education Week. The report gave Nevada a ranking of 49th in the country (thank god for South Dakota this time), with a grade of C-. The report used indicators of student achievement, education standards, financing, and teacher accountability to determine the rankings.

Nevada’s worst score in the six breakout areas of the study was in the Chance for Success index, where there was no South Dakota to save us from being dead last. No surprise, really, since this index is scored on such measurements as the number of children who go to preschool and the number who drop out of high school, two measurements where Nevada was ranked 50th in the most recent Kids Count Survey.

The breakout of School Financing caught my eye, however, when I saw our highest ranking, an A- in the area of equity of funding, and our lowest score, an F, in spending. One can presume the Nevada Plan, which has guided K-12 funding for nearly 50 years, is the basis for our high equity score and our incredible aversion to a corporate profits tax as the reason for our F in funding.

Jim Guthrie, Nevada’s new Superintendent of Education, now hired and fired by the governor as the result of the educational “reform” movement approved by the 2011 Legislature, told the Reno Gazette-Journal its readers shouldn’t worry too much about the study results: “By comparison (to Las Vegas), Washoe looks like someone’s dream.”

That statement must have come as a shock to parents whose children are trying to learn chemistry in an overcrowded lab or whose elementary school doesn’t have an art or PE teacher unless the parents raise the money. I can almost hear the sighs of disgust from school counselors who struggle constantly to keep up with too many students with serious behavioral problems, including suicidal ideation.

Nevada Democrats unveiled their legislative priorities for education earlier this month, calling for an expansion of full-day kindergarten and early childhood education. Gov. Sandoval responded with a suggested budget increase of just $10 million a year, an underwhelming investment that leaves half of Nevada’s elementary schools without full-day kindergarten.

The Democrats also propose a change in the funding formula to account for the higher costs of providing education in districts with higher numbers of students living in poverty and English language learners. There are just 14 states that currently do not account for the cost of low-income students as part of the educational funding formula, and just three states that do not provide additional funding for teaching English language learners.

Adjusting the formula to account for these needs makes sense, but only if the funding pie gets substantially larger. In true Nevada fashion, however, no one is seriously talking about raising the funds to do this. In reality, the new “funding equity” plan will mean shifting existing funds from Washoe and the rurals to Clark County.

In a North-South funding war, it is clear who the winner will be, with more than two-thirds of the Legislators representing Clark County. Washoe’s “dream” scenario will be more of a nightmare as additional cuts are implemented. It will be impossible to argue that Clark County’s children should continue to struggle so Washoe children can go to better schools.

Instead of arguing over whose children should suffer more, why are we not insisting that education funding be significantly enhanced so all of Nevada’s children have a better Chance for Success?