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April 26, 2015

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How your child’s school could change now that the Legislature has adjourned



Thirty-five fourth-grade students in Ms. Fennoy’s class utilize tables instead of desks to tolerate the overcrowding and tight quarters of their portable classroom, which exceeds the average of 30 students, at William V. Wright Elementary School, Friday, March 22, 2013.

It makes for good politics when legislators say they’re doing everything for the kids.

But sometimes they’re right.

Parents with children in the Clark County School District can expect some major changes as a result of bills the Legislature passed during the past few months.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and legislators from both parties are quick to tout the hundreds of millions of dollars they’ve funneled into the state’s $2.5 billion education budget.

“We did a number of landmark things that I think will really help the state’s education system,” said Assemblyman Elliott Anderson, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.

Here’s what all the political talk of education means for children in Clark County:

Graduation requirements to change

If Sandoval signs the bill, high school students won’t have to pass the proficiency exam to graduate from high school. Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, they’ll have new requirements that the State Board of Education will determine.

Students will still have tests to take, but legislators said they voted to scrap the high school proficiency exam because it didn’t match new education standards the state has adopted.

“That’s landmark legislation that is going to be a better predictor of college success because it aligns with the new Common Core standards that pretty much every state has adopted,” Anderson said.

Assembly Bill 288 also mandates that students in 11th grade take an ACT or SAT-like test but doesn’t require that the score count toward graduation.

For students entering their senior year later this year, the bill says that the state board has to decide by Aug. 1 what requirements seniors will have to meet in order to graduate.

Class sizes are reduced, kind of

The Legislature also told school districts to count kids more often. While this may seem obscure or meaningless, the new quarterly head counts are vital for both state funding and class-size measurements.

While many parents care about how many children are in their kids’ classes, legislators have complained for years that they don’t really know average class sizes because school districts only counted the number of students in a class on the last day of the first month of the school year.

“If you just count one day, we’re not getting an accurate picture of what’s going on,” Anderson said. “Think about it: you could count everybody in there for one day, then you could put as many kids in there as you want for the rest of the year, but you’d just have that one count day. Now we’ll get better data about what’s going on.”

The Legislature passed Assembly Bill 2 in the early morning special session June 3. It calls for ratios of one teacher to every 16 students for kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade classes. The ratio for third-grade classes is 18-1.

But the class-size reduction section of the state’s big education bill also says it’s OK to increase class size “in recognition of the significant downturn in the national and state economies and to allow school districts flexibility in addressing budget shortfalls during this fiscal crisis.”

So, in reality, the bill says the ratios can be 18-1 in the first and second grade and 21-1 in the third grade. The bill also says that districts should reduce class sizes by prioritizing small classes in high-poverty schools.

Better programs for English-language learners

Both Sandoval and Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, made it a priority to better fund programs for students who don’t speak English well. The state’s improving economy and some legislative money shifts bolstered the state’s ability to provide for English-language learners.

Senate Bill 504 passed unanimously with all legislators voting for $49 million in new spending. (About $39.4 million, or 80.5 percent of that money is headed to Clark County schools.)

That money is destined for so-called “zoom schools” that have the highest percentage of students who don’t speak English well and also have the lowest test scores.

The Clark County School District will have until Aug. 15 to decide which schools to designate as “zoom schools.”

Those schools will provide kindergarten free of charge, operate reading skill centers to provide individual tutoring for students who are deficient in the English language, and provide summer school academies free of charge.

Summer school academies not held at “zoom schools” will be tuition-based, said Joyce Haldeman, associate superintendent with the Clark County School District.

The district reports that 53,090 of the 94,619 who would qualify for English-language learner programs are actually receiving English instruction.

A report released by the Lincy Institute in March argued for increased English-language learner funding, noting that Nevada is one of few states not to apportion money in a state education funding formula for children who don’t speak English well.

More full-day kindergarten

Parents can also expect many elementary schools in Clark County to open new full-day kindergarten classes this upcoming school year.

That’s because Sandoval’s budget includes more than $30 million to expand full-day kindergarten programs. While falling short of Democrats’ goal to provide for free, universal full-day kindergarten, the governor’s program likely will expand access to full-day kindergarten to more than 200 schools that don’t currently have it.

The bulk of those will be in Clark County.

Which schools get the full-day kindergarten classes depends on two things: the number of poor children attending a school and the number of children attending the school who do not speak English well. The higher those numbers, the more likely a school will receive a state-funded full-day kindergarten program.

If a school gets a new full-day kindergarten program, parents have the choice to opt out and keep their child at home.

The Legislature also provided for more full-day kindergarten funding in a $50 million bill expanding programming for English-language learners. It’s still unclear how much of that money will be dedicated to full-day kindergarten programs at schools with high populations of students deficient in English.

Cheating to be reported

Although a bill to punish students for cheating died in the early days of the legislative session, high schools will now be required to file reports with the State Board of Education detailing the number and percentage of students who are caught cheating and what the punishments are.

What didn’t make the cut

It’s also notable what didn’t happen at the State House. While the contents of some education bills were rolled up into other bills, a slate of education bills died outright.

Besieged within a swirl of heated rhetoric and outright misinformation, a comprehensive and controversial sex education bill died in late May. The failure of Assembly Bill 230 sparked a frenzy of outrage from progressive groups intent on its passage.

But children in the Clark County School District will still receive sex education as prescribed in the district’s curriculum.

A bill that would have allowed parents to commandeer a failing school and possibly transform it into a charter school also died in late May. Senate Bill 311 would have allowed 55 percent of parents to transform a failing school into an empowerment school, which under existing law means that the school would be mandated to have a rigorous improvement plan. Although the bill passed unanimously in the Senate, an unusual coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats killed the bill in an Assembly vote.

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  1. Regarding class size, HOW ABOUT COUNTING the SMALLER READING GROUPS and other classes--not just the large classes?

  2. What needs to happen in education, is EARLY INTERVENTION. That would include initial pre-screening of enrolling students at the PRE-K level, requiring them to take an academic and social skills assessment to determine if they are prepared to enter school. If they are not, then the parent(s) are notified, and required to get them up to speed at their own expense. This includes MASTERY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE! It is time to make parents responsible for having children. Maybe they will "get" the message to not have any more children than what they can care for!

    Social promotion has had an adverse impact on education. Children who are NOT ready to advance into the next grade, should repeat coursework that they are not proficient in until they master it, then advance to the next grade. This may mean the greater utilization of Community Schools and online education, to facilitate learning and final assessment until the competent child can be mainstreamed back into the regular classroom environment.

    Keeping children in a grade when they are clearly not ready to do the work, only drags down the rest of the class. This is so dysfunctional on many levels, why, with all the technology and informational advances, we are still operating on a pre-historic model that does not serve students nor their families, and the community at large. It is about MONEY and Leadership power and control, to keep things the way that they are now.

    Commenter Jared333 has suggested something that I had successfully done in California while running a Community School. Allow those children who are moving faster, to advance as this commenter suggests with, "I still think it would be great to provide an opportunity for children to work ahead of their scheduled curriculum (early grade leveling) to promote learning, promote advanced placement, and inspire better work ethics for better job placement sooner than later in their lives. Provide a better future for our posterity." It truly works, and keeps the learner motivated and engaged in their own education. Such a program is revenue neutral!

    To keep and maintain the "status quo" only costs more money, and Taxpayers are now demanding a "ROI" or Return on Investment, which was never heard before in the past century. We can do better.

    Blessings and Peace,

  3. Please note:

    BEFORE the session even began, public education in the state of Nevada had been starved of nearly one billion dollars over the last few years. And we weren't at the top of the heap before the drought.

    So we recut the pie to make it appear larger?

    The Governor-of-Reno Sandoval's budget did begin to remedy the cuts he implemented - around $400million which is still $600 million less than when he began. Our state is still short of the mark that was set before Governor-of-Reno Sandoval set foot in his office. He's in the hole in a state already in a hole.

    So ... We cut the pie sideways and think we created more pie?

  4. This session did not raise education revenue.

    We are still behind where we were before the recession - when we still funded education last in the nation. Nothing happened lately except: Better Schools, No New Taxes? Hurray for Reno which is funded by .... Vegas! Finding 40 million here and there - doesn't fill the horrible gap our state has allowed in Las Vegas.

    Worse yet ... Rurals get half the pie to feed 25% of the kids. The Vegas half has to spread to the 75%. The pie does not get bigger on the Vegas side even though Vegas buys the pie? Wait? Fair?

    $300 million -in additon to the $1 billion remedy in cuts - that is the amount of funding it would take to adequately fund English Language Learner programs in Nevada and bring us up to par. Yep. That is how many limited language proficient students we have. And it takes real effort and time to learn the academic language required to pass tests and be successful in public school. We are still behind. We are behind the $600million + $300 million.

    We didn't raise revenue for schools. My pie needs to feed the most impoverished, discriminated, disadvantaged groups - and I have to watch the North feed their student two or three servings?

  5. English Language Learners have been discriminated against long enough - if we didn't raise revenue - where is the ELL funding coming from? Hopefully not another disadvantaged group! When you don't raise revenue the funds have to come from somewhere? Social services? Special Education? Who took the hit?

    We have the best of intentions. Limiting classsize is the best solution to our public education issues. But where is the money? A teacher was telling me the other day - more money won't solve our problems. I reminded him that money buys more teachers. Even he agreed - more teachers work - always has. More teachers cost.

    Our pie is small. It didn't get bigger. So I guess the best tool we have - smaller classsize - will be mandated, not funded, and then waived.

    More teachers and smaller classsize solve a number of issues: behavior, individualized attention, smaller groups, more interaction per pupil, better lessons, and less herding sheep/more tending the flock. Poverty is so prevalent in our community, schools have become the social safety net with limited funds and support. Show me the money.

    I'm grateful this session was not like the last.

    I'm hopeful that many issues are being examined.

    I'm pleading that everyone works to support the Education Initiative because no matter how we cut this pie - we will fail - there simply is not enough to go around.