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April 26, 2017

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How will bevy of reforms from ‘education session’ affect Las Vegas schools?

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AP Photo/John Locher

Gov. Brian Sandoval, center, laughs as he looks at a picture presented to him by students at Matt Kelly Elementary School during a bill signing ceremony Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Las Vegas. The ceremony was for Senate Bill 432, which allocates millions of dollars for low-performing schools in the 20 poorest ZIP codes in Nevada.

Midnight Monday marked the official end of the 2015 Legislature and with it the end of the “education session,” named for the tremendous amount of attention paid this year to Nevada’s notoriously underachieving school system.

We talked to Seth Rau, policy director for the education think tank Nevada Succeeds, about what’s next for the session’s biggest education bills and what that means for Southern Nevada.

Assembly Bill 394 — Breaking up the Clark County School District

The bill started as a way to give municipalities the ability to form their own school districts but was amended by Assembly Republican David Gardner to explicitly break up CCSD into five school precincts in time for the 2018-19 school year.

Originally considered a longshot after similar bills in previous sessions failed to go anywhere, the success of A.B. 394 was due almost entirely to Gardner’s willingness to compromise and change aspects of the bill to appease lawmakers.

The final compromise came in the waning hours of the session, when a provision was added to require the breakup plan have the approval of a legislative board during the 2017 session. That means the school district could pursue a bill to stop the process.

“CCSD is still going to do everything in their power to fight it,” Rau said.

The next step is the appointment of the committees that will come up with the breakup plan. That will likely happen around September, and could be controversial.

A.B. 448 — Converting failing public schools into private charters

Based on an idea developed in post-Katrina Louisiana and replicated in states like Tennessee and Georgia, the Achievement School District would take a handful of low-performing public schools and convert them into privately run charter schools.

While criticized by CCSD and passed along party lines by state Republicans, the district was a key education reform on Gov. Brian Sandoval’s agenda. It could start converting schools as soon as 2016, which means there’s a short turnaround to get it set up.

A national search for the district’s executive director is currently ongoing, and could be over later this year, Rau said.

“Whoever gets hired as the executive director is going to really guide the process,” Rau said. “That’s the next big step.”

Senate Bill 302 — Giving parents more control

Arguably one of the most drastic pieces of school choice legislation in the United States in recent years, the law will allow parents to put the money the state would normally pay a school to educate their child into a savings account.

That amounts to around $5,000 per student per year, which parents could use to pay for things like private school, tutoring and other educational services. Critics, such as the teachers union, say redirecting public money to pay private companies will take money from already struggling public schools. Supporters, including Sandoval, say it will inspire innovation.

But first the program’s regulations must be written by the State Treasurer’s Office before it takes effect at the beginning of next year. That could prove controversial, as Treasurer Dan Schwartz has been heavily criticized by both parties and parents ever since he released his own state budget that left out funding for a number of education programs.

Regardless, the law has the potential to spark a massive shift.

“I think it is the biggest game changer of any education bill that has been passed this session,” Rau said.

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