View from the fray

Lowering the books and buses bar

You can follow debates on taxes and education at Nevada Legislature 2003 at
My two middle-school-age children were kicked off their overcrowded school bus about the second week of this school year. We’d moved to a new house, and the bus driver decided we lived within the “walk” zone—a circle with a two-mile radius around the school. My kids were told that they were taking up spaces for other kids who really needed to ride the bus.

Since my odometer indicated that we live 2.2 miles from the school, I appealed to higher-ups. My kids were allowed to ride the bus again. But the vehicle is still overcrowded, and the driver seems grumpy.

One day last week, I had a hard time convincing my high-school daughter to stay home sick. Yes, she’d had the stomach flu, but she was worried about missing her psychology class.

“I brought the book home,” she said. “And I share that book with four other people. If I don’t go to school, they’ll all be without a book.”

Five students sharing one textbook?

In March, the Washoe County School District sliced more than $9 million from its budget for this school year. The cuts deferred the purchase of needed school buses and textbooks. Programs like Talent Academy for gifted students and a fifth-grade music program that introduced kids to stringed instruments went away. Yes, students suffered from these cuts. But what are you going to do? You can’t exactly cut spending on utility bills and make kids work by candlelight.

Maybe you can. But who’s going to pay for all those matches?

These are the kinds of things I think about when I listen to state legislators debate tax plans and spending cuts.

I also think about the college freshmen in my Journalism 101 class. There are 70 students in my class. Last semester, class enrollment was more than 170. At upper levels, seniors are stuck in college for additional semesters or even years when they can’t get into needed classes.

On Monday, I was whining over this sad state of affairs. Then I spent two hours with a group of Afghan women. These women are here in Reno learning skills they’ll take back to Kabul to start a small-business-development center for Afghan women. The Friends for Afghan Redevelopment, headed by Gay LeClerc and Sher Dil Qaderi, sponsored the project. Last year, FAR also helped find funding and a location for a school for girls in Kabul. LeClerc recruited teachers and found Afghans willing to build furniture for the schools at a rate of $13 a desk. Students without desks sit on the floor.

I’ll bet these students would be OK with shared textbooks and overcrowded buses. The entrepreneurial Afghan women I met Monday probably wouldn’t mind learning about the media in a jam-packed, high-tech classroom at the spiffy Reynolds School of Journalism.

But before you go feeling all better, do we really want schools in Nevada that merely compare favorably to schools in a developing country?

That’s something to consider. My high-school daughter has a theory.

“I don’t think people in this state care about kids,” she says. “Even though they say they do.”