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July 30, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

A boost for education

Lawmakers should support efforts to tap Teach For America

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Mona Shield Payne

Eighth-grade teacher Matt Angelo quickly passes out textbooks to his students in preparation for lessons on the Holocaust in English Literature class during Teach For America Week at Dell H. Robison Middle School in Las Vegas Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

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State lawmakers are fighting over a proposal by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval to spend $2 million over the next two years on the nonprofit education group Teach For America to help it hire 100 teachers in Clark County.

What’s surprising about this fight isn’t only that it’s about a tiny amount of the entire budget but where the opposition is coming from — Democrats in the Assembly. That’s ironic because Democrats are normally the champions of public schools and education programs. Furthering the irony is the fact that Republicans in the Legislature, often critical of public education, have joined with Democrats in the Senate in support of the measure. Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said she will carry the legislation.

As the Sun’s Andrew Doughman reported, the Assembly Democrats complain about Teach For America’s retention rate. The organization says two-thirds of its alumni stay in education in Nevada after their two-year commitment to the Clark County School District ends.

That’s a problem?

So what if a teacher leaves after two years? Students and their parents want qualified teachers, even if only for a few years. And given the district’s struggles, an organization like this should be embraced.

TFA has helped the district fill vacancies with qualified, well-trained teachers since they started working together in 2004. Those teachers go to hard-to-fill positions, including in at-risk and low-income schools.

It is an impressive organization. It recruits and selects a diverse crop of graduates from top schools across the country, puts them through an intensive training program and then supports them in their jobs.

As a result, students see good, committed teachers in classrooms that otherwise would be filled by long-term substitutes. And the research indicates that the organization’s teachers are doing the job well.

A survey commissioned by the national organization found that 9 out of 10 principals said teachers from the program were at least as as effective as veteran teachers.

Principals want TFA teachers. The local TFA office says the demand for its teachers outpaces the supply. It had more than 80 requests it couldn’t fill this past year in Clark County.

The group notes that not only have studies shown that their teachers produce results, but the alumni stay engaged in education issues after they leave the program. For example, two TFA alumni, Allison Serafin and Alexis Gonzales-Black, were elected to the state Board of Education last year. Other former TFA teachers in Clark County have started programs and nonprofit groups to help the schools and boost student achievement. That only furthers the quality of education in the region.

So what’s not to like about this organization?

Perhaps some lawmakers tie it in with other education reform groups that have a political bent, but TFA isn’t a political group.

Perhaps some Democrats worry that the organization is anti-union, a view that is often seen in reform efforts. But TFA teachers are full-time employees of the School District and can join the teachers union immediately.

For the life of us, we can’t understand why Democrats are opposing this measure. There’s no reason to oppose this. None. TFA has done an outstanding job bringing talented teachers to the district. Its work should be celebrated.

Assembly Democrats should drop their opposition and support the proposal. This really should be a no-brainer.

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