I guess by now it should come as no surprise that Nevada ranks dead last in education. We’ve been at the bottom of the Education Week Quality Counts report since 2010 and not much better before that.
That’s the Battle Born State:
- The nation’s toxic waste dumping ground
- With one of the nation’s highest suicide rates for three decades
- Where there is no comprehensive sex education but sex is for sale at your friendly neighborhood brothel (and where Nevada girls get called “easy”)
- A state where you can be fired for not wearing makeup on the job
- We have ranked first in the nation in domestic violence homicides for years
- With one of the worst rates of premature births
- And the worst nursing homes
- We’re nationally disgraced for our terrible treatment of the mentally ill
- Meanwhile, we were arguably the hardest hit state in the nation during the recession with the highest foreclosure, bankruptcy, and unemployment rates and where 70 percent of homeowners were underwater on their mortgages in 2012 and our state’s budget shortfall continues to be the highest in the nation
I mean, just look at that list. It’s truly sobering. Excuse me if I’m not humming “Home Means Nevada.”
With all that on our plate, I suppose it’s no wonder education has just slid right off into the compost pile. Nevada and Las Vegas’ Clark County School District, the fifth largest in the nation, have consistently ranked at or near the last in the nation for at least as long as I’ve lived here (15 years).
We got some good-ish news last summer when Nevada’s high school dropout rate climbed from last to third from last or a 62.7 percent graduation rate compared to a national rate of 74.7. But we are still one of the top states in “dropout factories,” schools in which senior classes have 60 percent of fewer of the students who started freshman year. Just a few years ago, Nevada was ranked third in the nation for dropout factories! Meanwhile, the 2,000 identified dropout factories in the nation account for half of ALL high school dropouts. (Check out this horrifying AP graphic for a more illustrated look at this disturbing problem.)
Clearly, Nevada is the worst of the worst in the nation for education. We’ve been weighed and measured and found not only wanting, but practically gasping for air. Both the Kids Count report in June and the Education Week report out this month have ranked us the worst. We have the lowest per-pupil spending, a high dropout rate, the lowest rate of college graduates, and the lowest rate of preschool enrollment. (Preschool has a surprisingly high impact on the academic and economic success of people later in life.) Perhaps it’s no wonder, since we are 44th in the nation in per-pupil spending, which the 2013 Legislature did almost nothing to address.
Indeed, Nevada’s education system is still reeling from disastrous cuts to higher education and K-12 education budgets during the 2009 Legislature by the hand of scandal-prone former governor Jim Gibbons, who holds the state record for vetoes (41) and legislative veto overrides (25). (At one point, Gibbons proposed 29 percent cuts to higher education alone.) Unfortunately, at Gov. Brian Sandoval’s hand in 2011, things weren’t any better. That legislative session had to contend with a $1.8 billion budget shortfall, the highest in the nation. That killed any hope of reversing Gibbons-era education cuts — some $700 million — and has allowed Sandoval to coast on so-called “victories” — including re-allocating about $300 million during the 2013 Legislature — with “found” money that is actually just federal funds flowing to Nevada because the state is doing poorly compared to national averages. So … robbing Peter to pay Paul. That usually ends well.
Frankly, it’s hard to imagine how things could get much worse for Nevada’s education system (or any of the dozens of other quality of life indexes we routinely fail at). The reckoning is already here. Nevada’s simpleton tax structure — relying almost exclusively on the luck of the gaming industry — has proven itself a reckless endeavor. Meanwhile, we have little chance of diversifying our economy or bringing in industries with higher-paying jobs because of our lack of quality education (worst), high dropout rate (third highest), and low rate of college graduates. Basically, Nevada is too dumb to get more attractive job-producing industries to move here — despite all the low-tax perks Republicans like to tout. It turns out, no matter how bottom-basement you make the business tax climate if you can’t offer an educated workforce to go along with it those tax rates are worthless. Ikea, Eathlink and others have passed on Nevada in recent years because of our low level of education and terrible school system.
The bottom line is that our obsession with low taxes and our nickel-and-diming of our education system (higher and lower) has crippled Nevada’s chances to fully rebound from the recession or to get much-needed quality of life improvements in everything from mental health care to helping homeless veterans. This is not a liberal thing or a conservative thing. This is about the livelihood of our state and the welfare of our residents. Can you honestly say that you are proud to live in the state with the worst education system? It’s an embarrassment.
The fact is, it is time to get serious about solutions to this problem.
One potential fix on the table is the teachers union’s proposed margins tax, set to appear on the ballot later this year. The tax initiative — which could bring in an estimated $800 million for schools — is actually quite popular with voters. Math may not be my strong suit but even I can see that an influx of $800 million would go a long way to shoring up deficits created by deep budget cuts since 2009. However, considering that Nevada already ranked at or near the worst in the nation in education before those cuts were introduced, the proposed margins tax is really only the first step of many needed to get things back on track.
Other ways to help improve things:
- Purge our K-12 education system of bad or ineffective teachers (not that all of our teachers are bad) and start offering better pay to attract quality teachers and so teachers aren’t having to work second jobs — and to keep them from leaving.
- Reducing classroom sizes and overcrowding in schools.
- Do better at background checks for teaching candidates because we are finding out about sexual predators in Clark County School District classrooms far too often.
- Put more resources into libraries, which have been proven to increase high school graduation rates and the overall education level of communities.
That’s a short list and is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a start. And honestly, we’ve got to start somewhere. Anything is better than last.
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