Education needs a Hail Mary pass

Education needs a Hail Mary pass

Posted by admin, Category: Announcements, Community, HOPE News,

Do we support and invest in the real future of our state — our students? That is the question we hope the Nevada Legislature went back to work Monday in a special session to consider regarding Senate Bill 1, the Southern Nevada Tourism Improvements Act. This is the bill establishing a stadium district for the public financing of an NFL stadium project.

The proposed $1.9 billion stadium would be funded with $750 million in public tax money from SB1, $650 million from private developers, and a $500 million investment by the Raiders.

Within SB1, lawmakers are considering increasing the hotel room tax by 0.88 percent on the Strip and 0.5 percent in the rest of Clark County to raise money for the stadium to (possibly) bring the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas.

Last week after doing a quick about-face, Gov. Brian Sandoval removed a proposal from this plan that would adjust the hotel tax to shore up an anticipated shortfall in public education funding. He was quoted as saying “… I have decided that any potential budget challenges for the next biennium will be addressed during the next regular session” that starts in February.

This leaves the funding of education hanging in the balance. Again. Do you think legislators will be likely to put another billion of public monies in education — monies that are needed to fund the billion dollar weighted funded formula from last session — after funding a private football stadium project? Not likely. We can’t stop the momentum from last session now. Legislators need to keep their eye on the real prize: Raising the bar on Nevada education once and for all.

To put things into perspective it helps to understand the 50-year history behind the hotel room tax and how it impacts funding our public education. This Las Vegas Sun article explains the tax and the history of how the money earmarked for education doesn’t stay in education.

In short, in 2009 the legislature passed an advisory measure, Initiative Petition No. 1 (IP 1), that enacted an additional room tax of up to 3 percent for public education. This tax increase was intended “to improve the achievement of students and for the payment of salaries to attract and retain qualified teachers…” Additional language was included to ensure that the funds would “supplement and not replace any other money appropriated, approved or authorized for expenditure to fund the operation of the public schools…”



However, citing lingering effects of the recession in each of the last three legislative sessions, all the funds from this additional room tax were “temporarily” diverted to help balance the budget (see The Nevada Plan, search for IP 1). Over the course of the last five years, roughly $750 million of room tax money has been diverted from student achievement and educator salaries to supplant the state’s general fund obligation to the Distributive Schools Account.

And here we are again with SB1 poised to do more of the same, leaving Nevada’s students under-funded in exchange for a … football stadium.

Make your voice heard via the National State Education Association’s petition, by contacting the Senate Committee of the Whole Chair Sen. Michael Roberson and Vice Chair Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, or contact your senators and assemblymen directly. (And don’t forget to tell them you’re a HOPE member.) 


District reorganization efforts begin

District reorganization efforts begin

Posted by admin, Category: Announcements, Community, HOPE News,

In the two weeks since AB394’s Plan to Reorganize the Clark County School District unanimously passed its final round of approvals, the school district has been busy assembling all the regulatory bits and pieces together to make this new-fangled education engine start up and run smoothly.

The Plan, aka the “reorg”, is broken down into digestible, bite-size pieces for us in this detailed presentation by CCSD. This is as comprehensive as it gets at this point for anyone looking for answers to their questions about the reorg process, its goals, structure, philosophy, timeline, meaning of life, etc. You name it, it’s in here.

Briefly, Assembly Bill 394 was passed in the closing moments of the 2015 Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval last June. It was originally born out of the desire to make CCSD, the nation’s fifth-largest school district, more manageable and responsive to individual school needs, to improve district efficiency, and to increase student achievement. AB394 made its way through two legislative advisory committees, the State Board of Education, and the Legislative Commission before The Plan’s recommendations and regulations were approved this Sept. 9.


Along the way, many ideas were presented to the advisory committees on how best to accomplish this task. The ideas metamorphosized from a true break up of the district, to a decentralized plan, then the empowerment model from 2007 was reintroduced, and finally the committee settled on an autonomous plan (which is really a fusion of the empowerment and autonomous models).

Consultant Michael Strembitsky, who worked with CCSD on its empowerment school model, was hired again to develop the reorg proposal. He carried over bits from a program used in Edmonton, Canada, and the empowerment school model, and retooled it to fit our needs, intentionally leaving some areas more open for interpretation, customization or personalization for individual schools as needed.

So, what the reorg does, in essence, is it flips the current “top-down” business model of decision making and spending on its head. By August 2017 — a full year ahead of the original bill’s schedule — CCSD’s central office will no longer be the epicenter of the educational world in Clark County. In this “bottom-up,” autonomous model, each of the 357 schools function as its own school precinct to encourage more “site-based decision making,” more parental and community involvement, and less dependence on a central office.

While some aspects of running a school will remain with the District, such as payroll, transportation, food services, capital projects, and human resources, etc. due to scale and scope, the majority of the day-to-day functions of a school will be handled at the school level. Each principal will report to a School Assistant Superintendent, but the site-based decision making as a whole will be done in cooperation with a School Organizational Team.


As you can see from the graph above, the School Organizational Team, or SOT, is comprised of parents, along with the principal, several teachers and support staff. There are also optional spots for a community representative and a student representative. The SOT’s role is to support the principal and be more involved in the decisions directly affecting that school, such as budgets, staffing and instructional priorities. The SOTs will need to be formed before budgets are distributed to schools on Jan. 15, to get the reorg ball rolling for implementation across the county by next August.

The principals, teachers and support staff will receive training for the SOT from the District. The parents, who make up 50 percent of the School Organizational Team, will also require training, however no decisions have been made as to how parent training will happen as of yet.

The reorg is also supposed to ensure that resources follow students and their particular needs — special education, English language learners, gifted and talented education, low income students — and that as many resources as possible flow to the local school. This part of the reorg plan goes hand-in-hand with the goal that principals, teachers, support staff, and parents will have autonomy and more say in how their school’s money is spent. So far there have been no examples provided of how much money that is going to be for each school or how exactly that amount will be determined. What we do know is schools will receive 80 percent of unrestricted dollars for 2017-18 and 85 percent in 2018-19. The majority of that money would be used for salaries and benefits. What’s left remains to be seen.

One potential monkey wrench could be thrown into the funding works due to the state’s inability to fund the newly modernized weighted funding formula, created during the 2015 Legislative Session. While this is not the first time the district has had to find dollars for unfunded mandates at both state and federal levels, the current estimates in funding the weights — without even adding to base funding — would be over an additional $1 billion. HOPE will stay on top of this situation now and into the 2017 Legislative session.

For now, what we can do is read the documents (The Plan, the regulations), be prepared for the upcoming changes, and participate in our student’s education and our collective future by running for a spot on your school’s SOT. If you know of a teacher or support staffer who is a great advocate for student achievement, encourage him or her to run for a spot on the SOT, too. The teams will meet at least once a month and will be an integral part of every CCSD school’s success.

SBOE unanimously approves #reorg

SBOE unanimously approves #reorg

Posted by admin, Category: Announcements,

Nevada continues to lead the country in transforming education into the 21st Century. On Sept. 1, The State Board of Education voted unanimously to pass regulations set forth for Assembly Bill 394, The Plan to Reorganize the Clark County School District. This was the second step in a three-step process. The Plan will go into effect after final approval by the legislative advisory committee when they are expected to meet on Sept. 9.

The Plan to Reorganize the Clark County School District will give more autonomy to the District’s 357 individual schools rather than retaining centralized control. Some of the areas where local school precincts will have more control are budgets, hiring and firing, and instruction. This is a major shift in the way CCSD operates. A similar empowerment model was implemented on a smaller scale back in 2006, but the legislature didn’t renew funding after a biennium and the promising program was discontinued.

As we all know, Nevada ranks at or near the very bottom of nearly every “bad” list comparing education by state. The Plan gives CCSD, the fifth largest school district in the nation, room to try something different that could improve our educational system by giving more power to the people in the schools, at ground level, who better know what their community needs to thrive. It also gives parents a voice in the decision-making process.

One of the main differences from the abandoned Empowerment model to The Plan is the formation of a School Organizational Team that supports the principal in areas such as the operational plan and budget. The SOTs will be comprised of teachers, support staff, and parents.

Over the past 14 months, so many experts in education came to meetings to share ideas about how to fix our District’s failing education model. Throughout all the 100+ plus hours of Legislative Advisory Committee, Technical Advisory Committee, and Town Hall meetings HOPE attended while AB394 was created, tweaked, changed, morphed, and crafted, we continued to keep our eye on the prize: Our 320,000+ students and the consequences of the Plan’s changes as it affects them.

The verdict from Thursday’s SBOE meeting was not surprising. However, this particular piece of legislation does have a history of being pushed through at the last minute, passing by critics’ concerns and questions with relative ease and few concrete answers, especially regarding equity and funding. Because of that, HOPE presented testimony to the SBOE so that our observations and questions went on record.

For your review, here is HOPE’s testimony:

President Wynn and Board Members,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Jenn Blackhurst. I am here with Caryne Shea and Julie Vigil representing the parent advocacy group HOPE, Honoring Our Public Education. We support many of the new Legislative changes in Nevada’s K12 education system. We have attended all the Advisory Committee, TAC and Town Hall meetings with cautious optimism in the hope proposed changes will give all children a better chance of graduating high school, succeeding in college, careers and beyond.

Our 800-plus HOPE members share enthusiasm at the prospect of proactive decision-making at individual schools, based on student need, and we relish greater efficiency, true family/community involvement, and changing unsuccessful practices in meaningful ways.

We have become increasingly concerned as the deadline approaches, at the amount of missing information, and the lack of real-time and historical data to vet. We do appreciate the value of law and regulation not being overly prescriptive, but we must provide enough framework to ensure true, equitable support to our children, teachers and administrators.

We have seen the pinball activity of the reorg meetings over the last seven months and have reserved judgment due to constant changes in trajectory. Since the discovery phase, we feel there are still concerns to be addressed before we can in good conscience move our students forward in the Reorganization process.

We need to make clear that we are not against the Reorganization. Rather, we have spent time navigating through many upheavals in Nevada education, such as the roll-out of the NACS, the SBAC chaos, and the continued confusion of the EOC exams. We’ve seen what happens when regulations and laws are passed and implemented without all stakeholders input or enough questions being asked. While all concerns brought up may not need to be in regulation, these issues deserve to be carefully considered. To date, the most common answer received from the LCB to concerns has been “You’ll need to figure it out.” We owe our children a better answer than that.

In Sect. 14, the list of services provided through central administration is so extensive, no one has been able to pin down what services will actually transfer to the school site. In that vein, the well-touted “savings” that will come from eliminating said services remain conjecture. For example, currently CCSD receives about a quarter of our promised federal special ed funds and the district is left to cover the millions of $ left in need.

How can we expect individual schools to bear the burden of that deficit, with their current per pupil dollars? Will we actually be robbing Peter to pay federally-mandated Paul, upsetting the questionable equity our students currently face? Will unprotected GATE money be subject to filling the holes, as well?

In Section 17, why is there only a hold-harmless for magnet and rural schools? Not having ALL of our schools given this same entitlement will leave the bulk of schools vulnerable to having budgets cut below existing per pupil dollars, especially with implemented weighted funding. And if student achievement is the primary goal for AB394, how will this lack of protection negatively affect student outcomes?

I’d like to share an actual 2016 flex budget for a four-star school that receives no Title funds. The school’s allocated budget for the year is roughly $3.2 million for 700 students. Salaries and benefits alone are over $3 million for 34 licensed teachers, two administrators, and contracted hours for support staff. The school still requires additional support staff hours for its special education needs and pays that out of pocket. Combined with approximately $140,000 for an additional teacher for growth, and teaching supplies, the school team has about $50,000 left over to pay for everything else: copy paper, office/ custodial/health office supplies, books and materials, technology replacement, subscriptions, publications and fees for online programs, etc.

This school is run by an experienced administrator who has years of experience working with a flex budget. Seeing how far that money must stretch, exactly what does the school have autonomy over, let alone any “cost savings”?

We have seen CCSD schools on flex budgets attempt to save money by cutting programs, hiring long term subs, and expanding class size to eliminate teachers. Is this the autonomy the Legislature felt the school communities were craving?

In addition to budget training for all administratos, we cannot stress enough the importance for Climate and Culture training for the entire School Organization Team. Superintendent Skorkowsky stated that CCSD has Reorganization funds until January, right when the real work is to start. The previous empowerment model’s success came with appropriated state and grant money. How do we ensure that all training via the School Associate Superintendent is adequate? What about adequacy of the end of the year surveys? And with an unknown cost of the transition, and no estimates on future available funds, you can see that the administrators we have surveyed are understandably concerned.

Over the years, HOPE has also attended the Task Force meetings charged with recommending weights for the modernization of our funding formula. Section 17 is very concerning because the Implementation of weights at the state level is stalled due to lack of money, but yet AB394 requires the school district to do it.

In addressing the makeup of the SOT in Section 25, the information on the Parental component is largely absent from draft regs. We support Educate Nevada Now’s added language recommendations for this section. Further, from a community survey HOPE did last year, 75 percent of the 420 parents across 41 zip codes surveyed revealed they “occasionally or never” participate in a parent organization in campus.

Additionally, almost 70 percent of those parents stated they were NOT willing to start a parent organization if their school didn’t already have one in place, which currently describes half of our schools.

The majority of parents we spoke to worried that time was a luxury they didn’t have. Also, they questioned their ability to be effective without feeling pressure to defer to administrators and teachers, for fear their child will suffer the consequences. While the plan says “there is no hierarchy,” we must be realistic.

Given these responses, we suggest parent participation and training should be made mandatory to level the field. Hopefully the liability component for parents will be remedied in the upcoming Legislative Session, but we are aware that is also a deterrent for parents to serve.

Parents and teachers have expressed that the selection of teachers based on payment of membership fees is discriminatory and the school team may lack important historical insight as veteran teachers are less likely to be members.

What happens when the highest vote-getters are not Union members? Must they join or be disqualified? The plan states that efficient operation requires constant planning and communicating.

In Section 26, how will teachers participate with their current CBA restricting their “after hours” events to three per year, but the regulation requires no less than one meeting per month? Will meetings be held during teachers contract hours, limiting parent and community availability? And how does the “NO additional compensation allowed” clause affect the teachers’ ability to serve? (Sect. 26, 5 & 7) If more money must be found for compensation of staff, does that come from the school’s operating budget? We hope there is a remedy that makes teachers available to attend as prescribed, but doesn’t take a bite out of the school’s operating budget.

We suggest that the Union requirement for teachers and support staff be removed, parent participation be made mandatory, term limits be instituted, terms be staggered, and moving forward from year one, an election team is responsible for the election of all members.

In Section 30, with respect to accountability, parents, teachers and administrators are concerned by the use of surveys as being our measure for success. Historically, we suffer from abysmal participation, notably: they aren’t mandatory, the results are subjective, and the lack of employee anonymity hinders participation for fear of retribution. Not only do we recommend a minimum threshold be added, but also this cannot be our only barometer.

Parents, teachers and administrators agree that the goal is increased student achievement for every student in every school. We appreciate your thoughtfulness and consideration for our children’s success as the determining factor for when and how this reorganization is adequately vetted and approved.

Last Call! Please take our Parent Participation Survey

Last Call! Please take our Parent Participation Survey

Posted by admin, Category: Announcements, Community, Survey,

The deadline for our Parent Participation Survey results are due tomorrow, Tuesday, March 22. IF YOU HAVEN’T DONE SO ALREADY, PLEASE TAKE OUR SURVEY NOW.

HOPE has been closely following the progression of Assembly Bill 394, the plan to reorganize the Clark County School District. In a nutshell, it’s about two legislative committees exploring how CCSD’s 356 schools could function with more independence outside of the central school district. The idea is with more site-based decision making and budgeting, autonomous schools will benefit greatly and students will flourish.

Some of the discussion the Advisory Committee and the Technical Advisory Committee members have had so far has been focused on how to achieve greater parent participation, and the committee members want to know what greater parent involvement would and should look like. And HOPE wants to present the TAC with as many parent opinions as possible.

HOPE is on the agenda to present YOUR opinions to the Technical Advisory Committee on Monday, March 28, at 8 a.m. in Room 4401 of the Grant Sawyer State Office Building, 555 E. Washington Ave. If you can’t be there in person, the meetings are always live-streamed. But in any event, HOPE will bring parents’ voices — your voice — to the education decision-makers shaping our public schools.

Thank you for participating in our survey!

Nevada’s ESA program sets new bar

Nevada’s ESA program sets new bar

Posted by admin, Category: HOPE News,

Nevada is known for a lot of things, from casinos, conventions, and celebrity chefs to Area 51, atomic testing, and NASCAR. We get around. Some might say our reputation precedes us.

Nevada is also well known for its education — and not just because we routinely sit at the bottom of so many state-ranked lists. Nah, we’re also known as the state with the most expansive school choice program in the entire nation. Yup, we’re at the top of that list.

Senate Bill 302, Nevada’s school choice or “voucher” program, was passed and signed into law within hours of adjournment sine die of the 78th Legislative Session last June. This new school-choice law gives a “grant” to any student in Nevada who wants to leave the public school system in favor of going to a private school or other type of non-traditional school experience for a better education, providing they follow the guidelines.

Here are the rules. Ready?

1) The funds can be used only for educational products and services — like tuition, personal tutors, online courses, transportation, tests, and school supplies — by approved vendors.

2) The student must be enrolled in a public school or public school course for a minimum of 100 days.

That’s it. It’s simple, really. And, if you’re a military child or under the age of 7, that last requirement is waived altogether. No prob.

The yearly amount a student can apply for is $5,100 or $5,700, depending on if the child has a disability and/or has a household income that is less than 185 percent of the federally designated level of poverty.

There are no restrictions when applying for an Education Savings Account. Students are not bound by grades, location, attendance, family income, or any other factor. Also, grants are valid for one full school year; they may be terminated or renewed for any subsequent school year, at will, by the ESA holder.

This shiny, new law does have its down side, however. The ESA “grants” aren’t free.

Wait. What?!

Nope. The “grants” are funded based on a percentage (90-100 percent) of the state guaranteed per-pupil basic support* the school districts receive according to how many students are registered for public school in a given year.

(*This number fluctuates, by the way, thanks to the Nevada Plan, the primary funding formula for K-12 education created back in 1967 that’s still used today. In this formula, each school district has its own basic support guarantee, and it just so happens that Clark County’s per-pupil amount dropped $15 this biennium. Yes, dropped! Plus, we’re already starting at a disadvantage: Nevada’s state-guaranteed per-pupil funding is approximately half of the national average.)

Oh, and don’t forget to read the bill’s fine print. The only other thing the grant money can be used for are “account management fees.” Yeah. You read that right. According to Sections 8 and 10 of SB302, the “State Treasurer may deduct from the amount of the grant not more than 3 percent for the administrative costs” and to pay “reasonable fees for the management of the education savings accounts.”

Late last year, the State Treasurer’s Office released demographic information regarding the applications it received. The data revealed a lot, mostly that the majority (approximately 90 percent) of the school voucher applicants live in affluent neighborhoods, come from communities with high private school enrollment, and only a very few (approximately 10 percent) are actually coming from the inner city where educational choices would be most beneficial. In total, there were more than 4,100 applicants by the end of the initial enrollment period.

The voucher law has caused a stir among those looking to get their money and who have moved children in and out of schools to accommodate the ESA’s 100-day requirement and also among those who believe the law is unconstitutional. Several lawsuits have been filed.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada is challenging the State of Nevada on grounds that the law violates constitutional provisions that prohibit public money from being used for private religious purposes.

The second suit, filed against the Nevada State Treasurer, Lopez v. Schwartz, claims that the ESA law is unconstitutional because state laws prohibit taxpayer funds earmarked for the operation of public schools to be used for anything else.

This suit also argues that it will drain critical funding resources from public schools and is unconstitutional because it decreases the prescribed funding set in the state budget for public education. Also, it is unconstitutional, they say, because it uses public funds to pay for private schools that are not mandated to serve all students, meet accountability, or abide by anti-discrimination laws.

District Judge James Wilson, who heard the case and granted a preliminary injunction based on the strength of the plaintiff’s arguments, was reported saying that the state constitution requires “the legislature to set apart or assign money to be used to fund the operation of the public schools, to the exclusion of all other purposes.”

State Attorney General Adam Lexalt filed an appeal with the Nevada Supreme Court to lift Judge Wilson’s injunction on the ESA program and expedite the decision on the law’s constitutionality.

HOPE will continue to observe and disseminate the information related to the ESA law as it heads to the Nevada Supreme Court and its looming February application funding deadline.

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