Las Vegas Sun

July 5, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

A Nevada ideal

A new conversation is needed to move the state forward

Nevada 3.0

In the coming months, the Sun’s opinion and editorial pages will host a discussion about the future of the state with a project we call Nevada 3.0.

Why 3.0? Looking at Nevada’s history, we saw the rise of the state with mining (1.0) and then the incredible growth with gaming and tourism (2.0). Now, there’s a chance for the state to plot its own future (3.0).

Much of the discussion recently has been about the economy and how the state can diversify it. That’s good, but it can’t end there.

Nevada is facing issues in a variety of areas, including education, social services, transportation, water, infrastructure and health care.

The state should be taking a broad view of the problems.

What will Nevada look like in 10, 20 or 40 years? Will this be a place our children and grandchildren will want to live?

We’re optimistic. One of the great things about Nevada is that it has been built by people who have been willing to take risks and dream big.

Nevada is a forward-looking state, and that encourages us as we look at the future.

We do want to make this a discussion and hope you’ll take part. We’ll look forward to hearing what you think.

Best,

Matt

Matt Hufman is the editor of the editorial and opinion pages.

News item: Nevada’s education system was ranked 50th in the nation in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual “Kids Count 2012” report. — July 28, 2012

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News item: Parenting magazine ranked Las Vegas as the worst city in the nation for education. The magazine previously ranked Las Vegas as one of the worst big cities in which to raise a child. — Summer 2012

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News item: For the 30th month in a row, Nevada has had the highest unemployment rate in the nation. — Sept. 21, 2012

There has been a drum roll of such news over the years, leaving us with the simple question:

Since when did this become acceptable?

In the middle part of the past decade, we heard political candidates talking about various national rankings and complaining about how Nevada was at the top of all the “bad” lists and at the bottom of all the “good” lists.

Since then, little has changed, except for the fact that we don’t hear many politicians complaining about it — Nevada’s rankings have become something of a given.

So when did it become acceptable to think that this is OK?

Nevada has many wonderful things going for it, but the problems are undeniable. The Great Recession has only exacerbated the issues.

During the boom times, the state was barely able to keep up with the growth, rapidly building schools, laying out plans for new developments and carving roads out of the desert.

The focus was on growth and not necessarily on the quality of life. The theory was that as long as the economy prospered, good things would happen — if not immediately, eventually. But that shouldn’t have been a foregone conclusion.

The stress on Nevada’s schools, services and social safety net were evident, but even in the boom times, the problems were pushed off for a future time that never came. Take, for example, education.

The “Kids Count” report was hardly the first indication that there is trouble in the education system. Nevadans have known for years about low student achievement scores, high dropout rates and overcrowded classrooms. But little progress was made.

Recently, the Clark County School District announced that the preliminary graduation rate showed a great improvement, up 6 percentage points. That was good news, but there is still a long way to go. The district’s graduate rate was 65 percent, which would earn it a D in the classroom.

That’s not to minimize an impressive achievement but to demonstrate the scope of the problems. The state isn’t going to turn around education or anything else overnight, nor are a few minor fixes going to solve the problems. It’s going to take a dedicated effort and a significant investment of time and money.

Unfortunately, the polarization in politics over the course of the past decade has stifled much of the debate. Ideology has trumped solutions.

In education, the fight has often come down to ideological lines. There are conservatives who argue that government has plenty of money and all that are needed are reforms. There are liberals who argue that the system has to be funded better. There has been little ground between the two.

Education policy can and should be improved, but any changes won’t go far until Nevada starts funding education properly. By any reasonable calculation, the per-pupil funding in Nevada that goes to the classroom is well below the national average.

But talk about funding, much less addressing an antiquated and unfair tax system, usually runs into a dead end in Carson City. Some conservatives have refused to even discuss funding in fear of violating some sort of anti-government, no-new-taxes orthodoxy that doesn’t withstand an objective analysis.

Good schools, paved roads, clean water and proper planning shouldn’t be driven by a political ideology, yet Nevada has stalled because of the political fight. That needs to change. The state needs a new ideology, one intent not on accomplishing political gains but on improving Nevada for the people and families who call this state home.

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