Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2017

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Crowding, bad school buildings hurt student achievement

Clark County School District officials have a list of $3.5 billion in building and repair projects they say are needed to reduce crowding and fix older schools. However, because of tight budgets, they’ll be able to afford less than a tenth of the work over the next few years, and that won’t help student achievement.

The problem

Money from a school construction bond is running out, and voters have shown no appetite to extend it. In the meantime, school enrollment continues to grow. Last fall, the district set a record with more than 313,000 students, and elementary schools were 14 percent over capacity.

As the school year starts this month, officials are trying to make do with what they have, and the school board recently approved a capital budget that covers just a fraction of what’s needed. With more growth projected, it won’t come close to meeting the demand.

Portables are hardly the answer

The district will try to relieve crowding with portable classrooms, but they are not a good option, much less a panacea. It costs about $40,000 to place a portable at a school, and although they are meant to be temporary, they have taken root on many campuses. Portables can develop costly leaks and problems with heating and air conditioning. And there’s another issue: Portables are dropped on playgrounds, fields and other places where students might otherwise have recess, play sports or participate in physical education.

Greater costs ahead

The district will put off needed maintenance to save money. Deferred maintenance always leads to higher prices down the road, such as air conditioning units that fail. And that leads to a direct cost beyond emergency repairs or machinery replacement: lost school days. Crowded classrooms also take a costly toll in terms of poor student achievement. Study after study shows the correlation: crowded classrooms are not good learning environments.

Unequal education

Where you live can determine the quality of the schools. That’s not just the quality of education but also of the buildings. Newer schools are, obviously, in the newer areas of town, and they feature state-of-the-art buildings that can accommodate modern needs. Schools toward the center of the urban area struggle with aging air conditioning, leaking roofs and old equipment — a bad setting for optimum education. Some schools even lack appropriate electrical wiring to accommodate a computer lab. Children with some of the greatest needs are in the least-equipped classrooms.

A problem at the ballot box

You don’t need to look hard to realize why Clark County is in this situation. Strapped for cash and facing a growing list of maintenance needs, district officials asked voters two years ago to support a bond measure. The measure was fairly conservative, asking for a small tax increase to pay for only the most needed work. Voters shot it down by a 2-to-1 margin. Now with few options, school leaders are considering bringing a similar proposal back to voters in 2016.

The bottom line

It’s clear that school facilities affect the quality of education, and student achievement in Clark County has struggled for years. Pushing off building programs is pushing our children and our future in the wrong direction. Elected officials and voters should make this an issue this election. If Nevada is to move forward, it needs an educated population. But that won’t happen in substandard schools.

It’s beyond time to fund schools. It’s not just the moral, decent thing to do, it is absolutely essential for Nevada’s future.

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