During his gubernatorial campaign, Joe Lombardo told voters he wanted to be considered Nevada’s “education governor.”
He said it was time to deal with “stubborn facts” regarding public education.
Nevada’s public schools have been historically underfunded and historically underperformed for students.
Armed with a large budget surplus, Gov. Lombardo in his State of the State address proposed the single largest spending increase in K-12 education in Nevada history. His budget contains $2 billion in new funding.
This would boost per-pupil spending by $2,000, raising the total to over $12,000, an increase of more than 22 percent from what was appropriated in the current biennium.
The increased funding has strings attached – more accountability and transparency. The governor threatened “systemic change” in the governance and leadership in K-12 education without measurable results within two years.
On Feb. 6, Lombardo announced an audit of Nevada’s 17 public school districts as part of a surprise executive order.
That was to address mounting concerns from teachers and community members about management of the Clark County School District. Nevada schools received more than $1.5 billion through three rounds of federal COVID-19 aid packages.
Lombardo wants to give Nevada parents significantly more choices for their child’s education.
Traditional public schools should not be the only education option. Private schools, magnet schools, charter schools, micro schools, virtual schools and homeschooling are all viable alternatives that can increase the potential for student success.
He proposes to create the Office of School Choice within the Department of Education to ensure students and parents have the information they need to evaluate every available option.
Lombardo also proposes a record $50 million in funding for the state’s Opportunity Scholarships. Sen. Heidi Gansert’s legislation would double funding and expand eligibility for these scholarships.
Literacy matters. Lombardo would reinstate a requirement contained in Nevada’s Read by Three law championed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2015 that children failing third grade reading proficiency be held back. That law was amended in 2019 to remove the requirement.
Nevada needs safer schools. In 2019, the Legislature passed AB 168, “the public-school restorative justice law.”
While well intended, the law has led to disruptive and dangerous behavior in classrooms. It handcuffs teachers and administrators, leaving them powerless to deal with habitually misbehaving and violent students.
Lombardo has called for rewriting AB168 to create a safer classroom environment for teachers and other students.
Absent from Lombardo’s school choice plans are education savings accounts. ESAs allow parents to access public funds and apply them to private schooling, tutoring or other qualified alternatives rather than to assigned schools based on geographic designation.
Nevada’s GOP-controlled legislature in 2015 passed the nation’s most comprehensive ESA program, allowing parents to access $5,000 annually for their child’s schooling. Opponents filed legal challenges and Democrats took control of the Legislature. The program never was implemented.
With Democrats now dominant in the Legislature and teacher union opposition, political reality precludes Lombardo proposing ESAs at this time.
“We’ll look at bigger bites as we move forward,” he said.
Until the beginning of 2023, only Arizona was allowing universal school choice – giving parents $7,000 to use as they choose to educate their kids. In January, Iowa and Utah adopted similar universal school choice laws. More than a dozen states now have legislation moving for universal ESAs.
Nevada’s school pandemic lockdowns were a catastrophic policy blunder with devastating effects on children and shined a light on educational deficiencies. Parents want greater control over their child’s education.
A February 2022 Real Clear Politics poll found 72% of parents support school choice.
A recent poll of Nevada voters conducted for the Nevada Independent backed Lombardo’s education policies – and his overall job performance (45% approve – 28% disapprove).
They support using state dollars for private education (49% approve – 21% disapprove) and agreed with his Read by Grade Three or held back position (68% to 8%).
E-mail Jim Hartman at email@example.com.