During the Legislative session, legislators from across our great state will grapple with many issues. The most important action, however, that I believe the Nevada Legislature can take during the upcoming session is to train its eye on our state's most important resources - our students and educators.
For decades, Nevada's public education system has struggled to keep up with the increasing demands. Over the last 20 years, our K-12 schools have been some of the fastest growing in the nation. The rapid growth in student population forced our school districts to invest heavily - and quickly - in educators, capital improvements and administrative systems to manage the growing student population. Sometimes they did this with great success, and sometimes they did not.
Compounding the demands of student growth was the fact that as the population grew, the demographics changed. A significant portion of our student growth was made up of English-language learners (ELL), and today more than 15 percent of our students are English-language learners. In the Clark County School District alone, there are 50,000 ELL students representing more than 150 languages.
When the Great Recession hit Nevada, unemployment rose, housing foreclosures increased, and state and local tax revenues plummeted. The reduced revenue levels required sometimes-difficult cuts to state and local spending.
The pressure of student growth, demographic changes and reduced funding resulted in problems that persist to this day. We have too many students who struggle to read at grade level, our graduation rates remain dishearteningly low, good educators labor to remediate students who have fallen behind and we have too many students who are neither college- nor career-ready when they graduate.
That said, as the 77th session of the Legislature begins, the outlook is improving. Our unemployment rate has fallen, foreclosures are down, job growth is up, and the ability to make more resources available to our schools is on the rise. What's more, last year graduation rates in Clark County rose slightly, third-graders in Washoe County posted their highest reading scores ever, and high school math and science performance across the state increased.
But we can do more.
This legislative session represents our opportunity. We must start with the early years of a child's schooling, focus resources on the ELL population, take a targeted approach to improving high school graduation rates and ensure that the marketplace of education ideas is as dynamic as possible. That's why I've proposed expanding all-day kindergarten, funding locally designed ELL programs, expanding a proven dropout-prevention program and creating opportunity scholarships for the state's most at-risk students.
I am also proposing a focus on educators. Last session, the Legislature and I worked together to pass historic educator-effectiveness reforms. These reforms establish the backbone against which we will evaluate not only the success of educators and schools, but of ourselves. No one single group bears the burden of moving our state's education system forward. We must therefore continue the implementation of this system while also recognizing the need to give teachers the tools they need to meet the new standards. My budget includes a significant investment in teacher development and effectiveness training dollars to do just that.
This legislative session, it's vital that we focus on our students and teachers; they are my most important priority. Of course, there are other matters to consider. We must be vigilant in protecting our fragile economic recovery and continue to work hard to create jobs in our state. I am optimistic that by working together, we can make great progress toward ensuring the promise of opportunity for all Nevadans.
• Gov. Brian Sandoval can be reached through his website, gov.nv.gov.
Article Topics: LegislatureLegislature