On Politics: Read by third grade in Nevada (opinion) | TahoeDailyTribune.com

On Politics: Read by third grade in Nevada (opinion)

Jim Clark
On Politics

By a rare bipartisan vote, the Nevada Legislature approved a measure championed by Gov. Brian Sandoval requiring Nevada students to be able to read by third grade or be held back. Nevada became the 25th state to pass such legislation.

Department of Education figures show that students unable to read by third grade are unlikely to graduate.

The Washoe County School District ("WCSD") now claims the requirement is "an unfunded mandate" despite the fact that $30 million was initially appropriated to implement the law and an additional $44 million earmarked in subsequent budgets.

As reported in the Reno Gazette Journal, the Nevada Department of Education ("DOE") and Gov. Sandoval disputed WCSD's claim and implied that the earmarked funds just got sucked up into the district's budget which is awash in red ink.

How about charter schools? They have the same requirement but unlike district schools their state funding has to cover occupancy expenses. Consider then Mariposa Academy, a public charter school located in Reno's Neil Road area. Most students (94 percent) are English language learners and most (94 percent) qualify for free or reduced price lunch, Nevada's criteria for poverty level. "Read by Third Grade" impacts them across the board.

To the rescue came a volunteer citizen group which in many ways is as impressive as the citizen sailors that rescued the allied armies at Dunkirk. "Read With Me" was conceived by Incline Village's Roberta Klein. She and her husband winter in California's Coachella Valley where she observed that, like Incline, a large percentage of elementary students are English Language learners.

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Recruiting volunteers through her church and other community churches, Roberta launched a well-organized after school program to help students become fluent in English. Teachers identify students' literacy weaknesses and volunteers are given appropriate texts to work with them one on one. The program is in its third year at Incline Elementary School.

It must have been karma when Roberta met Sue Foltz at St. Francis Catholic Church in Incline, a church both attend. Sue recently retired from her job as a highly successful exec at Abbott Labs in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to Reno where she serves on the Philharmonic Board, a foundation to aid refugees and a Christian nonprofit helping Central Americans.

They clicked immediately on the need for tutoring elementary school English language learners and within three months she has recruited 43 volunteers for Mariposa Academy's "Read With Me" program serving 101 students one on one.

Mariposa's director, Rick Harris, said: "The program has been a huge success at our academy as the result of a wonderful team of adult volunteers, the amazing teachers and support staff who schedule our kids daily, and our fantastic coordinator — Sue Foltz."

Sue is equally enthusiastic: "Being able to bring such a wonderful literacy program to Mariposa Academy has certainly been the highlight of my two years in Reno. Having such motivated students, engaged educators, and phenomenal volunteers are the keys that give the Mariposa students the chance for individual mentoring and success."

Wendy Mueller, CPA, chief financial officer for a Reno investment firm and Mariposa board member is an enthusiastic program volunteer: "I am excited that our mission of reading improvement is taking place. The best part of the program is the sense of community that is apparent with the team of volunteers, teachers and students. It is truly amazing."

What a contrast with the WCSD. Having lost their "money" argument with Gov. Sandoval and the Nevada Department of Education they are now inexplicably proposing: ". . . elimination of 10 educators dedicated to teaching the district's thousands of students still learning English," according to the Reno Gazette Journal. Ultimately the school board saved the positions, while approving other cuts.

Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at tahoesbjc@aol.com.