Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval campaigned for office on a platform of attracting new businesses to Nevada and reforming public education. He’s earning high marks in both endeavors.
Last year Henderson, Nev., had the second highest economic growth rate in the US at 7.54 percent and Reno was fourth at 7.15 percent.
The governor has won numerous legislative victories implementing his education reform agenda even though both houses of Nevada’s Legislature are controlled by Democrats.
In the 2011 legislative session Sandoval crafted a stunning reorganization of the state department of education in which a charter school authority was created totally independent from the state board of education. He also got legislation changing the manner of selection of the Nevada superintendent of public instruction.
Formerly the position was filled by the state board; now the superintendent is appointed by the governor. He barely lost on his proposed constitutional amendment to allow taxpayer dollars to be used for school vouchers in order to allow qualifying students to attend private or religious schools.
For the current (2013) legislative session Sandoval has proposed a 10 percent increase in K-12 education spending much of it targeted at English learners and students whose families are identified as being in poverty.
In addition he has modified his proposal for issuing taxpayer funded vouchers and made it among his top priorities for this session of the legislature.
Senate Bill 445 would encourage Nevada businesses to contribute to a scholarship fund for English learners and students from low income families which would pay for their costs to attend private or religious schools.
Donor businesses would receive credits against their tax obligations to the State of Nevada. The effect would be the same as vouchers but the structure would avoid Constitutional questions of using taxpayer funds to pay tuitions at religious schools.
The fund would be capped at $5 million annually, a tiny fraction of Nevada’s $5 billion K-12 education budget. In presenting the proposal acting State Superintendent of Instruction Rorie Fitzpatrick told legislators: “Poverty should not be a sentence for education failure.”
The Nevada State Education Association (teacher union) and the Nevada Association of School Boards are both opposing Senate Bill 445.
Why? According to representatives of both organizations: ”The bill would take money away from the state general fund, possibly reducing public school funding.”
Possibly?? The $5 million needed to fund this modest program is only 1 percent of the $500 million dollar increase in public school funding provided in Sandoval’s budget.
And if it is to come from business tax credits how can that be construed as affecting the K-12 education budget?
What really frosts me is opposition by the Nevada Association of School Boards. I can understand how those who control the teacher union consider even this modest scholarship plan a threat to the government schools monopoly that keeps Nevada in the cellar of nationwide school ratings.
But Nevada’s school boards should support any measure aimed at helping kids who are struggling.
There was once a young African-American student who lived in poverty with his divorced mother. To make things worse his mom was an irresponsible hippie who roamed around the world. He cut classes and experimented with drugs. His grandmother took hold, bullied him into a private prep school and then saw to it that he went to college. His name? Barack Obama.
Sometimes all it takes is a little break in life for a child to blossom and prosper. Why would anyone oppose the governor’s modest plan to help poor kids whom the government monopoly schools are failing?
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates and has served on the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.