It was a joyous holiday season for local teachers as their union cut a deal with the Clark County School District just days before Christmas on a contract that includes massive pay hikes. But would it be Scrooge-like to point out that with the new money must come heightened scrutiny of a system that has long failed far too many Nevada families and students?
The settlement comes after months of rancor between the district and the Clark County Education Association. The new contract contains an additional $750 million for compensation, raising starting teacher salaries by 6 percent and providing educators with nearly 20 percent pay hikes over the next two years. “It’s a wonderful knocker! — Here’s the Turkey. Hallo! Whoop! How are you? Merry Christmas!”
The Legislature, with Democrats running both houses, passed record increases in education spending last June, boosting public school budgets by $2.6 billion over the next biennial budget. Gov. Joe Lombardo, a Republican, signed the legislation. Self-styled education advocates have long insisted that only bottomless taxpayer support will cure what ails Nevada’s public schools. We’re about to find out. But can the system withstand the pressure of enhanced expectations?
Gov. Lombardo spoke bluntly on this topic during his State of the State address in February. If the infusion of cash doesn’t produce tangible results, he said, “I’ll be standing here in two years calling for systematic changes to the governance and leadership in K-12 education.”
This realization seems to have sunk in on most of the other major players outside of the legislative Democrats who for decades have run interference for the foundering status quo. CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita told us in February that “people are looking for accountability and better outcomes.” CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara said in June that if he doesn’t “deliver” with the additional funding, “you need to find another superintendent.”
The onus will be on both the union and the district to produce. But it will also be on Gov. Lombardo to forcefully advance an education agenda that undermines the forces that tolerate destructive mediocrity. Here are a few places he should start:
■ Emphasize higher standards. In recent years, the state has all but eliminated high school exit exams, while Mr. Jara implemented a dumbed-down grading system in Clark County that awards a minimum 50 percent to students even if they don’t do any work. Kids pick up on these cues. Yes, there may be an overemphasis on standardized testing, but there must be some measure of what students have or haven’t absorbed. Without such, a diploma becomes just another scrap of paper. Gov. Lombardo should advocate for reimposing an exit exam as a condition of graduation, while Mr. Jara should scuttle his unfortunate and counterproductive experiment in entitled grading.
■ Fix the broken teacher evaluation system. In January, the Clark County School Board learned that, during the 2021-22 school year, only 11 of the district’s 15,300 teachers earned the lowest rating of “ineffective.” Another 39 made it one rung higher and were charitably deemed “developing.” Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of district third graders failed to reach reading proficiency. Math scores were similarly poor. But all the teachers are above average? Lake Wobegon was fictional. The evaluation process is a sham shrouded in a mockery. Even Mr. Vellardita, the union chief, admits, “There are people in classrooms who shouldn’t be in classrooms.” Yet legislative Democrats at every turn have undermined efforts to identify and get rid of bad teachers. There should be no more rationalizations, particularly in the wake of generous teacher pay hikes. Gov. Lombardo mustn’t tolerate this nonsense and should propose legislation to reward top performers while weeding out those who aren’t cutting it in the classroom
■ Give families more options. The pandemic school closures demonstrated that many parents crave more educational choices for their children. The state’s Education Savings Account program — which allows families to use a portion of per-pupil spending on private school tuition, tutoring or other schooling alternatives — has been dormant since Democrats in Carson City cut off funding four years ago. They have also tried to defenestrate the Opportunity Scholarship program, which allows a limited number of low-income students to tap a private scholarship fund to cover schooling costs. Gov. Lombardo must more aggressively embrace both programs as a means of pressuring the public schools to improve in the face of competition and of providing students and families with additional pathways for long-term success.
The time for empty promises has passed. The “lack of money” excuse won’t cut it anymore. It is now more important than ever that Gov. Joe Lombardo pounds the table to insist on imposing a modicum of accountability on an entrenched education establishment that has become comfortable offering excuses for the abysmal academic ranking of the state’s public schools.