Gov. Brian Sandoval’s effort to implement a broad anti-bullying program throughout Nevada’s school system moved forward Thursday after getting a nod of approval from the Senate Finance Committee.
The vote came during a hearing for a portfolio of programs targeting English language learners, students in poverty and children who struggle to read. Sandoval describes the initiatives as an effort to modernize Nevada’s education system, and is trying to raise or extend $1.1 billion in taxes over the next two years to pay for the initiatives.
The anti-bullying bill, SB504, would create an Office for a Safe and Respectful Learning Environment within the Nevada Department of Education and was supported in prior hearings by parents who said their children contemplated or carried out suicide as a result of persistent bullying. It strengthens reporting requirements for bullying incidents and creates a 24-hour hotline and a website for submitting complaints.
Sandoval’s budget proposes allocating $36 million over the next two years to hire one school social worker for every 250 students and execute the goals of the anti-bullying office.
Other initiatives that were discussed, but not up for a vote on Thursday:
ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS
The committee discussed doubling funding for the Zoom Schools initiative, which gives schools additional resources for pre-kindergarten, reading centers and other programs when they have a high population of English language learners. Clark County School District lobbyist Joyce Haldeman described the initiative, which was launched in 2013, as one of the pieces of legislation that lawmakers truly got right.
STUDENTS IN POVERTY
Testimony was overwhelmingly positive for SB432, which creates the Victory Schools initiative and would provide extra resources for schools that fall within the poorest 20 ZIP codes in Nevada. State superintendent Dale Erquiaga estimated 30-35 schools in Clark Washoe Humboldt, Elko and Nye counties would participate, many of which had high populations of African American, Native American and rural poor students.
Sandoval has proposed allocating $50 million to the program.
Erquiaga said the Zoom School and Victory School initiatives will help the state collect data that will be used to create a weighted education funding formula. When that’s developed, schools will get additional funding for students depending on whether they’re enrolled in special education, are learning English or are living in poverty.
READING BY THIRD GRADE
SB391 creates the Read by 3 initiative, which would provide state grants so districts can hire literacy specialists, buy educational software or offer professional development. The goal is that all students can read before leaving third grade, when their lack of literacy becomes a serious impediment to their further success in school.
A portion of the bill largely prevents students from advancing to fourth grade if they don’t demonstrate reading proficiency through a standardized test or alternative means. Republican Sen. Becky Harris, who presented the bill, said there was some concern about that provision, so enforcement would be delayed for four years to allow time for the Read by 3 initiatives to take effect.