Las Vegas Sun

October 4, 2015

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Nevada 3.0 - The state of education:

Public schools need more

Nevada 3.0: Education

As the Legislature considers several proposals for education, the Sun asked for a variety of opinions on the state of education in Nevada. It's part of the Sun's Nevada 3.0 project, which is looking at issues confronting the state and ways to move forward. You’ll find:

• The Sun’s editorial, "Invest in schools"

• A conversation with Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction James Guthrie

• A conversation with Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones

State Sen. Scott Hammond, a public school teacher and charter school board member, writes about choices facing the state.

Dr. Sonya Douglass Horsford, the senior resident scholar on education at The Lincy Institute at UNLV, writes about a missed opportunity in Nevada.

Judi Steele, president of the Public Education Foundation, writes about improving school leadership.

Victor Wakefield, executive director of Teach For America in the Las Vegas Valley, writes about grassroots ways to improve schools.

Another view?

Have your own opinion? Write a letter to the editor.

On Monday, Nevada legislators will observe Education Awareness Day. Thousands of teachers will start their day with few resources and overcrowded classes and, in Clark County, they will teach 50,000 students who do not speak English as their primary language. They will end the day the same way they started. Tired and exhausted, but ready to start the next day to do the same thing — teach!

On Monday something will be different. Teachers will no be longer invisible. Instead, 9,000 teaching professionals in more than 300 Clark County schools will unite to make lawmakers aware of what is happening in their classrooms. They will show their support for creating stable and adequate funding for our schools by wearing a “More 4 Schools” button giving voice to the needs of our schools.

Before the Nevada legislative session started, Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed an increase of $137 million in the state’s education budget. Prior to that, state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, proposed $20 million in funding for Clark County’s English language learner (ELL) program. Last week Democrats introduced their five-point education platform and will soon spell out how to pay for it. And, our state affiliate, the Nevada State Education Association, qualified the Education Initiative, which will generate more than $800 million in additional revenue for public schools if adopted. Education funding isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue. Everyone agrees that more funding for education is needed.

As educators, we have reached the point where less funding means less for our students and schools. We cannot continue on this path.

Every year, Nevada’s 28,000 teachers spend close to $28 million out of their own pockets to help pay for classroom supplies for which school districts have no money. On average, teachers spend nearly $1,000 for essential classroom supplies.

Over the past five years, school district budgets have been cut by more than $800 million. This has resulted in schools being stripped to the core — cuts or elimination of programs, overcrowded classrooms (especially in Clark County where more than 217 elementary schools are above capacity), and in the elimination of ELL resources and programs, to name a few of the resources our schools are forced to do without.

Our legislators are failing our students. Our communities must demand more.

In Clark County, where more than 309,000 students attend school, the needs are magnified by the lack of ELL resources. More than 50,000 students depend on those resources, yet find them unavailable because the state has failed to allocate funding. How can we help these students succeed when we don’t have the tools and resources? It is a system set up for failure.

Teachers and students live daily with the consequences of shrinking school budgets. The largely overcrowded classrooms make it challenging for teachers to provide students with needed one-on-one attention. Completing assignments is often difficult as classrooms have outdated textbooks that do not match the curriculum and teachers cannot copy the pages as copy paper is in short supply. Classroom resources are so limited that by the second or third month of school, teachers have already used the supplies provided.

We must change course if we want a better future for our children and our state.

Thousands of Clark County teachers are geared up to advocate for public education throughout the legislative session because they know, firsthand, the consequences of an ill-funded education system. On Monday our goal is to make legislators aware of the realities in our classrooms.

Working together, we will provide our students — our children — with the tools needed to succeed and thrive.

Ruben R. Murillo is president of the Clark County Education Association, representing more than 17,000 teachers in Clark County’s public schools.

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