Las Vegas Sun

April 25, 2015

Currently: 59° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account


Legislative showdown brewing over $2 million for Teach for America

A $2 million pot of money to hire more teachers for the Clark County School District could be in danger — with a contingent of Assembly Democrats apparently digging in their heels against the money.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval wants to spend $2 million during the next two years to help the nonprofit Teach For America hire about 100 teachers in Clark County.

But some Democrats are objecting to the budget line item that gives money to one nonprofit working in just one part of the state.

Although $2 million boils down to less than a tenth of a percent of the state’s share of education spending, Republicans and Democrats have fiercely debated the proposal, and it could become a battle at the end of the legislative session.

Upset with the fracas, Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, called the showdown an exercise in “political football.”

But legislative critics say they’re voicing legitimate concerns about the program.

“I’m not a fan of Teach For America,” said Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas. “I’m not a fan because I would rather invest money in teachers who are going to stay and not into teachers who are going to come for two years and then leave.”

The national nonprofit organization recruits recent college graduates to teach for a minimum of two years in high-need, at-risk schools. The group began staffing teachers in Clark County during the 2004-05 school year and has a good working relationship with the School District. The graduates work in schools that the district has traditionally had difficulties staffing.

“There aren’t enough permanent teachers who are interested in teaching in these areas,” said Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson. “Lots of teachers would like to teach in Summerlin and Green Valley. That’s the reality.”

He said the choice is between helping Teach For America bring in teachers who want to teach in urban, at-risk schools or have substitute teachers teaching about 3,000 students on a permanent basis next year.

Critics have concerns that the program has a 50 percent retention rate in Clark County after the teachers’ two-year commitment ends. That compares to the districtwide 83 percent total retention rate for first- to third-year teachers, according to a legislative analysis presented last week.

“That’s a huge difference, and if you follow that curve out over time, you’re going to get to a very small number of TFA participants who stay,” said Assemblyman Andy Eisen, D-Las Vegas. “We should be looking at programs that result in career teachers who are committed to our communities as teachers.”

Teach For America representatives say that research shows that even a year of experience with a good teacher has lasting benefits for students.

Assembly Democrats last week stalled the $2 million appropriation from moving forward despite objections from Republicans and Senate Democrats.

“I do think it’s funny that out of a multibillion-dollar budget, we get hung up over a few million dollars,” said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

Now Smith says she’s going to put the $2 million in a bill that would provide one-time funding for the nonprofit. Some Assembly Democrats had taken issue with a direct appropriation from the budget, which would be a recurring expense every year.

Echoing Roberson’s comments, Smith said she wants to have good teachers, even just for two years, rather than have long-term substitute teachers who may not want to teach in at-risk schools.

The bill would likely pass out of the Senate Finance committee, which Smith chairs, and win approval among the Senate as a whole.

But it would end up in the Assembly Ways and Means committee, where many of the nine Democratic members have expressed concerns about the $2 million.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said she’s concerned about Teach For America retention rates and the limited geographic scope of the program, which currently only operates in Clark County.

The chairwoman of the Ways and Means committee also has concerns about the program.

“I’m not sure it has support in the Assembly,” said Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, R-Las Vegas.

She said the appropriation should have been considered in a policy committee months ago, and now time is running out in the 120-day legislative session.

Rorie Fitzpatrick, interim superintendent of the state Education Department, said that the Clark County School District will likely need to hire up to 1,700 teachers for the upcoming school year.

The Legislature will essentially have to decide whether 50 of those teachers will be from Teach For America.

They’ll have to decide quickly, too. Legislators need to pass a budget by June 3.

Asked whether he would hold up the budget to make sure the $2 million Teach For America funding survives, Roberson smiled mischievously and said, “We will see.”

“I think it’s going to be a battle,” he said.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 8 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. How much of that $2 million actually goes to Teach for America teachers actually serving in the classroom? Or is a large portion going to "consultants" to these Teach for America teachers.? Numbers, please! Also, why is this primarily in Southern Nevada? What is the district(s) in Southern Nevada doing/practicing to create a need for these type of teachers?

    When you place these first year Teach for America teachers into an established workplace, they are high maintenance, requiring a great deal of seasoned teaching staff volunteered time to assist through the learning curve of the actual teaching craft. Simultaneously, these Teach for America teachers go to their TFA program after hours, giving them precious little time to prep during off time, as most every teacher does in the district. These are my own casual observations since 2004.

    Precious few of these Teach for America teachers stay in the profession or at a school site. Although there are dedicated individuals in this program and they put in 100%, you have to look at how this all impacts the overall school culture, the fact that older, seasoned staff are routinely targeted to the point of retirement, transferring. or leaving Nevada entirely, because of an agenda to replace them with cheaper teachers. Do this enough, and you create the conditions for a "Turn Around School" where school performance has dropped. Oh yes.

    Every year a district pink slips or does a Reduction in Workforce with hundreds of teachers with years experience, this practice creates this "high need" to hire individuals who will be a body in the at-risk classroom who will attempt to teach, be it a TFA, new hire, or a long-term substitute. It is all about the money. Why the sharp rise and growth in administrative positions? There is literally a flight to leave the classroom for safer, and higher paying waters of administrative positions. That is the trend.

    As it turns out, the teaching profession has been suffering on a global level. Current attitudes of children in their relationships with parents, families, church, and school, has been changing, and not for the positive. As an example, Korea just had their Teacher Appreciation Day, and although teachers felt the love, they did comment on the changes they have seen in recent times. The modern distractions are having an impact, not just in Nevada, or the USA, but throughout the world.

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. While I was typing a comment, Tanker1975 responded to Commenter TruthSerum, with,

    "@truthserum. As a matter of fact, Teach for American doesn't hire veterans. They take recent college graduates and give them 5 weeks of training and put them in high risk classrooms. Most stay less than 3 years before they move on to other career fields.

    When was the last time you were in a classroom. I don't do any of the things you describe in mine. Why don't you come visit.

    By the way, I don't think that a former NYC cop, a former marine, and a retired Army officer would qualify as communist inspired. Those are just three of the teachers at my school."

    Which brings up a good point: as our country's Servicemen and Servicewomen return home, we should encourage those who wish to teach our young people, and properly support them in that process. There is no "pinko- communist, anti-American, nor Obama communist-inspired propaganda curriculum agenda" going on in our public schools as Commenter TruthSerum suggests, as a matter of fact, quite the contrary. Mr. TruthSerum really needs to get a grip, go visit his neighborhood schools to see for himself: that teachers are engaging young people in the "three Rs" and encouraging them to focus on learning to prepare for their future.

    Even those who have served in our country's military, find today's teaching and educational atmosphere challenging. Student and family behaviors and attitudes have changed in a way that does not regard others around them, nor do they value what readies them for a future career, living, or quality of is all about them, now. Try teaching that!

    Go visit a school and classroom, TruthSerum, it will rock your world!

    Blessings and Peace,

  3. As a fully licensed teacher - I do feel that TFA -- which does not require student teaching or coursework or practicum - before being placed in the classroom, is a disservice to students and "waters" down my full license. It implies anyone can teach - they can NOT.

    If you were going to court - would you prefer an attorney who passed the bar and had several hundred jury trials - or would hire a paralegal right out of college? We would hire the professional with the full license to practice and hopefully with a lot of experience. Teaching is no different.

    Here are my other issues with local TFA:

    1. TFA was used as a union busting tool by my district. 1400 regularly licensed teachers were pink slipped/laid off - while 150 TFA were approved to be hired.

    2. TFA regularly tells their teachers NOT to join the union. I know this for a fact - having talked to many young new TFA.

    3. TFA has been involved in community politics - using money excessively especially in school board races. Anytime a non-profit uses money for candidates -- you have to ask -- what is going on?

    4. TFA are NOT prepared. 6 weeks is not enough. Better than a substitute? Not necessarily. Ive seen and tried to help. It is scary what happens to TFA and the students.

    5. TFA are expensive. They cost more - 3 or 4 times the regular. Why would we hire them in s budget crisis?

    6. Elaine Wynn 's pet project. She wants to run public schools like a business. Schools are NOT a business

    No money to union busting TFA. No more staffing at-risk schools with unqualified people. We need fully licensed teachers.

  4. The Democrats recognize this $2 million give away for what it is, a kickback that will result in reciprocated campaign dollars from wealthy TFA donors, like Elaine Wynn, streaming Sandoval's war chest in less than a year. If Roberson has been promised a share of the kickback then he'll fight for it.

  5. Teaching is a work of the heart.

    If you're in it for any other reason, please leave.

    You are not helping yourself. Find someplace where you will be happy - and rich. There is no money in it.

    You are not helping society when you are only helping yourself.

    You are not helping the children because you do not invest anything in them - not your time, not your dedication, not your heart.

    Please do not use the profession as a stepping stone. We have had more than enough trampling because of greed and ignorance.

    Thank you.

  6. Funny how the "full time" teachers talk about how bad the TFA teachers are, yet Clark County schools on average are failing their students. Hope and Change? Nope, just the union status quo.

  7. Education is a billion dollar industry. Sadly, the money does not go to teachers.

    The powers-that be realize there is money in-them-thar-hills, and want a piece of the loot, if not all of it. They created this monster of high stakes test, which set up children to fail, ask their fellow business friends to sell materials that do nothing to help students, and then Hee-haw about school failure.

    Now comes the take- over, the privatization of the industry which they will control and voila, they get the billions.

    They already control the policy-making and what materials to use. Now they want control whom to hire for teachers and WHO should have an education!

    And you sheeples say BAAAAAAAA!

  8. Manfromuncle1:

    Please let me explain. The high stakes tests are paper and pencil with pass/fail scores. The children will need to have a certain number of correct answers to pass the test.

    Every child in Grades 3, 4, 5, 8, and 12 has to take that test. If a school does not pass, that school does not make AYP.

    No test is infallible. It measures certain skills, but cannot possibly measure everything.

    Children do NOT all learn at the same rate or level. They have differing learning modalities and intelligencies. We cannot measure them all in the same modality. i.e. paper and pencil. In addition, there are children who have yet to learn English (not just ELL. Many children born here come to school with appalling lack of sensible vocabulary). There are also a great number of children who have learning disabilities or developmental delays caused by parents who did alcohol or drugs.

    We set them up for failure if we measured their performance along with typically developing children. And, their number is increasing with the decline of familial and societal values.

    Add to this, the children of low socio-economic status - children who have health, cognitive, literacy (vocabulary-lack of literacy experiences-non-existent prior knowledge), and a host of other familial issues are at a disadvantage in assimilating academic skills regardless of instruction.

    Their performance on these tests, as can be expected are not necessarily stellar. Yes, there are exemplars of achievement, but they are more of an exception than the rule. Schools in depressed areas do perform, but only with intensive collaboration among administrators, parents, and the community. As I said, these are more of an exceptions than the rule. It requires extensive dedication by all stakeholders and very difficult to sustain. It requires extensive after school hours work for teachers and high motivation from students themselves and their parents. Sadly, these are qualities that are generally wanting from many.

    So. Is there hope? Yes. We must focus on rebuilding families and family values, but will it happen? Maybe. Do you believe in miracles?