A revealing essay by Dr. Eugene T. Paslov titled “A Culture of Exploitation: An Interpretive Review of the Political History of Nevada’s Public Schools” was published in The Nevada Review, Volume 2, Fall 2010, Number Two. In the introduction, Dr. Paslov (a former state superintendent of public schools) said, “In some cases, the school system has made excellent progress, but most often it has been impeded by lack of support, of insufficient will, and of inadequate resources.”
Mississippi, my native state, faced these circumstances for many decades. Gov. William F. Winter, elected in 1979, was determined to improve public education. His unwavering and courageous leadership resulted in passage of the Education Reform Act of 1982, which brought sweeping change to K-12 public schools in Mississippi.
The story of this feat is told in “Building Consensus” by Andrew P. Mullins Jr., a key member of Gov. Winter’s dedicated staff. In Mullins’ words, “Building Consensus” tells “an incredible story of different forces cooperating in an usual and unprecedented fashion to bring revolutionary change.”
In his essay, Dr. Paslov identified four broad policy questions concerning Nevada’s public schools: Why is Nevada at or near the bottom of all national public school rankings? What is the culture in Nevada that keeps the schools from improving? Who controls the policy and governance of public schools in Nevada? And how are we going to secure the resources to allow Nevada’s schools to become the best in the nation?
Dr. Paslov’s current recommendations include a taxation system ensuring that school funding is adequate and fair; establishing high standards for all students and an accountable measurement system; funding academic-driven early-childhood education; maximizing use of current technology; rethinking the organization of teaching and learning; using the best teachers to their best purpose; allowing students to make independent (but guided) decisions about how to learn and use academic content; recognizing that school is a stage on which students can perform, not necessarily a school building; and ensuring that common core standards must not be abandoned.
Providing adequate and dependable funding for public education is part of a larger issue: restructuring Nevada’s fiscal policy. Currently, 44 percent of state revenue comes from federal grants, 11 percent from regressive sales taxes, 12.4 percet from gaming taxes and 23 percent from miscellaneous taxes (Controller’s 2013 State Report).
This fiscal policy partly reflects the state’s historic dependence on the gaming industry, which faces increasing national and international competition. It is time to reduce that dependency (and thus the political power of the industry) by broadening Nevada’s tax base. The gaming tax should be replaced by a more equitable tax on business and individual income. A moderate income tax would provide increased and more dependable government funding for essential public programs.
Also, a statewide lottery should be established with the proceeds dedicated to public education, supplementary to continuing state expenditures from the general fund.
As chronicled in “Building Consensus,” determined and courageous leadership can overcome a lack of will and opposition to progressive reform. There is a lesson for Nevada in that story.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aide and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at email@example.com.