Wednesday, February 17, 2016
The national shortage of teachers reported by the New York Times last fall has only gotten worse. Based on recent news reports, Clark County, Nevada--the nation's fifth largest district--may be suffering the worst. Ironically, at the same time that the schools are suffering for money and teachers, the state is dumping money into vouchers. David Sciarra offers this critique in the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Aggressive [teacher] recruitment has had some success. Yet low pay, poor working conditions and rising enrollments make it difficult to attract and retain effective teachers. Thousands of students are in classrooms lacking a properly licensed teacher.
The teacher shortage is just one of the challenges the district faces as it struggles to provide quality education to 320,000 students.
It's no secret that many Clark County schools are over-capacity. Buildings need repair and system upgrades. Bilingual and special education services are lacking. Quality preschool, extended learning time and help for at-risk students are in short supply.
It's also no secret that the way Nevada funds public education is outmoded and inadequate. In the Education Law Center's "National Report Card, Is School Funding Fair?" Nevada consistently ranks in the bottom 10 states on funding level and receives an F for failing to fund the needs of poor children. Nevada also gets an F on investing in education, despite an improving economy.. . . .
That's why taking funds from public schools to pay for private school vouchers, or so-called Education Savings Accounts, will not help students. State Treasurer Dan Schwartz says he will cut at least $17 million from public education to fund ESAs in 2016 alone. The Treasurer also knows public schools will lose more and more dollars every year to ESAs, disrupting school budgets and forcing deeper cuts to teachers and programs.
Research from other states show that vouchers don't improve public schools. And Nevada is the first state to divert funding provided by the Legislature for public schools to vouchers, making it that much harder to give all students the education they deserve.
What Clark County children don't need is even more teacher vacancies, fewer qualified teachers, less support staff and more cuts to vital programs. By taking funds from tight district budgets, ESAs mean less opportunity for academic success and less chance to improve public schools.
Last month, District Judge James Wilson in Carson City issued an injunction blocking the voucher law because it diverts public school funding to private schools, in violation of the Nevada Constitution. Judge Wilson got it right. ESAs will hurt Nevada public school children. Let's hope the courts continue to see it that way.