Las Vegas Sun

August 31, 2016

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Leaders say charter schools key to education reform

Dwight Jones

Dwight Jones

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Nevada’s state and local leaders say the key to education reform is in charter schools.

The Nevada Legislature, urged by Gov. Brian Sandoval, recently passed a law creating a charter school authority to oversee the formation of charter schools. In a report, Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones said recently he wants to expand charter schools in Southern Nevada to “harness breakthrough innovation.”

Nevada has 28 charter schools, the fewest of any southwestern state, according to 2010 data compiled by Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform. Looking at nearby states, California has 860 charter schools, Arizona has 566, Utah has 76 and New Mexico has 72.

(Population-wise, New Mexico has the fewest residents, followed by Nevada, then Utah. Arizona and California have the largest populations, with California being the most populous state in the U.S., according to census data.)

The Clark County School District oversees eight charter schools, which follow the School District’s curriculum guidelines and conduct the same standardized tests as traditional public schools.

Because charter schools are taxpayer-funded public schools, enrollment is open to any student in the School District. By the same token, charter schools cannot charge tuition; however, like traditional public schools, they may charge book and technology fees.

If there are more applicants than seats — such is the case often at Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy — charter schools may conduct a lottery, or some other nondiscriminatory selection process, to ensure equal opportunity for all students to attend.

Charter school teachers in core subjects — English, math, science and social studies — and in elementary classrooms must be licensed public school teachers. Charter school teachers are not considered School District employees. However, as public employees, they participate in Nevada’s Public Employees Retirement System.

Charter schools are responsible for fire, safety, health occupancy permits and maintenance of their facilities.

That’s why one of the hardest things for charter schools is finding a permanent facility, said School Board member Lorraine Alderman, who until a year ago oversaw charter schools for the School District.

“The vision is there, the parents and kids will come, but where do they go?” Alderman said. “That’s why it’s so thrilling to see what’s happening at (Explore Knowledge Academy.) They’re not in a storefront; they’re not sharing space with somebody else. They get to have their own space.”

All eight School District charter schools have a facility they own or lease out. Two charter schools — Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy and Rainbow Dreams Academy — own their buildings. The rest lease them out, some sharing facilities with other groups.

Charter schools have a mixed record when it comes to making annual yearly progress goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

For example, 100 Academy of Excellence, a Las Vegas charter school for elementary and middle school students, did not make AYP in the past two school years: 2008-09 and 2009-10, the latest data available online. On the other hand, Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy made adequate yearly progress in the elementary and middle school grades and high achieving growth in the high school grades during the same time period.

At Explore Knowledge Academy, students made adequate yearly progress in all grade levels during the 2008-09 school year; however, it did not make AYP at the elementary school level during the 2009-10 school year.

For more information on the School District’s charter program, click here.

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