Nevada is a majority-minority state that ranks near the bottom in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. To improve our NAEP standing and achieve equity, we need to recognize that different children have different needs.
When the state’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, was re-elected in 2014, the GOP won majorities in both houses of the legislature for the first time in 85 years. In 2015, the governor bucked party orthodoxy and crossed the political divide to broaden the tax base and fund his education initiatives. These initiatives include boosting early education and attending to the state’s depleted teacher ranks. As a result, funding for specific pre-K-12 programs will more than double, to $1.3 billion, during his eight-year tenure, which ends in 2019.
Those reforms have provided the state with a full suite of tools to improve public education. They have expanded prekindergarten programs; provided full-day public kindergarten to all students; focused on teacher recruitment, retention, evaluation, and support; offered high-quality school choice; supported college- and career-readiness initiatives; and converted consistently low-performing schools to high-quality charter school models.
Under the governor’s plan to modernize school funding, the state is providing additional resources to address the achievement gap. By investing to meet the unique needs of English-language learners, students living in the state’s poorest ZIP codes, and students who qualify for gifted and talented programs, we can begin to provide the services young people need to improve their public education experience. And, at the start of the 2017 fiscal year, we introduced a weighted special-education funding stream, with increased support for students with disabilities over the next two years.
Our state’s equity mission also makes funding more transparent and, thereby, the state answerable to parents and educators. By carving additional investments out of the black box of district spending and measuring accountability and success through a partnership between the University of Nevada and a third-party evaluation firm, state leaders can judge the impact of this work on student outcomes. In this way, we can continue to invest in programs that are effective and make changes to or eliminate those that are not.
For example, the state department of education’s “zoom schools” initiative, which currently serves more than 45,000 students, makes an annual $50 million investment in expanded programs and services—smaller class sizes, more prekindergarten classrooms, reading centers, and an extended school year—for English-language learners. Early results demonstrate that the schools’ instructional models have had a positive impact on the achievement of students since the program began in 2013, such as improved results on science assessments and in Advanced Placement classes, and improved language and literacy skills.
States need to acknowledge that not all students start in the same place. Achieving equity will mean ensuring that additional investments yield tangible results. The success of our initial investments depends on whether we improve student outcomes on NAEP testing, ACT proficiency, and state assessments, and whether we continue to gauge our progress with honesty and transparency.
As Gov. Sandoval has recognized, and as other governors should consider, this is a long-term effort to reimagine an education system so that it can work for all students and prepare them to meet the skilled-workforce demands of the 21st-century economy.
A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2017 edition of Education Week as Two-Party Support Gives School Funding Wider Reach