Las Vegas Sun

July 3, 2015

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Federal cuts would hurt students in our state

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Washington is in the middle of a fight on “sequestration.” Unless the government takes action to balance our national budget, we will face the reality of devastating cuts to all government-funded budgets — the so-called fiscal cliff.

Unfortunately, here in the Clark County School District, this bickering could translate to slashed funding for federal education programs that serve our neediest students such as Title I funding for low-income students and programs for special needs students through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Cuts would be especially devastating to these two student populations.

These proposed cuts come at the worst time for Clark County and Nevada.

First, Nevada in general and the Clark County School District in particular are still reeling from the economic downturn that left our state and community with some of the highest foreclosure and unemployment rates in the nation, plus a growing childhood poverty rate of epic proportions.

Second, the School District has cut nearly $600 million in the past four years — including eliminating more than 1,000 teaching positions this past summer that will not be reinstated unless the Legislature allocates additional funds in 2013. This has increased our class size by an average of three students per class.

Our community cannot afford further cutbacks in school funding. The School District would be forced to reduce positions and programs that serve our neediest students, such as after-school programs, homeless student services, reading and math intervention programs, preschool programs and services for English Language Learners.

We are in difficult times, and the district is participating in the shared sacrifice of recovery. We have a new focus on return on investment and are working to ensure every dollar is spent in the most effective way possible on the sole focus of improving student achievement.

We already have seen some improvements. State testing results in 2012 for CCSD students are up in nearly every subject and grade.

Preliminary estimates predict our graduation rate will increase at a higher rate than the four largest districts in the country (including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami-Dade — which all have larger per-pupil funding).

Finally, Nevada saw the largest gains of all 50 states in improvements in eighth-grade reading and math in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the nation’s report card. Because our students make up 75 percent of the state’s population, it’s clear that our test scores helped fuel that remarkable increase.

These improvements come even as per-pupil funding for the School District, the fifth-largest in the country, is the lowest of the 20 largest districts in the nation. Further, these performance gains were achieved using fewer funds than we had in the previous year. More was done with less.

We are proud of these achievements, which have manifested because of an increased focus on academic rigor and the determination of our staff and community, who are all working on overdrive because they believe in our kids. We must caution that we have a long way to go and this is hard work. But we like to say that we are moving from the fastest-growing district in the nation to the fastest-improving district in the nation.

It would be regrettable to gut our district’s budget just as we are proving to our parents — and our community — that we are making considerable gains in academic achievement and graduation rates even during tough budgetary times.

I ask that Nevada’s members of Congress work to find an agreement to avoid these devastating budget cuts. This week, the Clark County Board of School Trustees adopted a resolution calling on members of Congress to save our schools. I stand with the board and fully support its resolution.

We can’t afford a setback now as we continue to fight for the future of our children.

Dwight Jones is the superintendent of the Clark County School District.

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