Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Coming #nved Reality Check

Over the course of the last month, we've been looking at the intersection of health care and budget policy, and how that's played into the mental health patient dumping scandal that's rocking the state. It's forced attention onto the woeful state of Nevada's mental health care system, and to Nevada's overall lack of an adequate social safety net. And now, we may very well have a new scandal waiting in the wings, one that may soon highlight another failing of the state's public infrastructure.

We've known for some time that Nevada schools are woefully underfunded. K-12 schools in Clark County are especially hurting, since they've been subjected to the deepest budget cuts and years of chronic underfunding. Public education advocates are getting sick and tired of empty promises from Carson City, so they're now considering suing the state.

The potential case centers around the state's poor graduation rates, its consistently low level of funding for English-language learners [ELL] and inequities in educational outcomes for minority students. [...]

Nevada ranks third in states that have the most English-language learners, but Nevada's support for those students pales in comparison to the support afforded other ELL students around the country, according to a UNLV Lincy Institute study published earlier this year.

For example, Broward County in Florida provides $121 million in ELL funding for its 25,112 students, or $4,837 per student. In Clark County, $6.7 million in federal money is directed toward ELL programs for 55,818 students -- an average of $119 per student.

So the group is turning its attention to the state's judicial branch in hopes that the courts will declare the state's support for education inadequate under the state constitution and mandate the Legislature to adequately fund education in Nevada.

It's a tactic that advocates in other states have adopted. The ACLU of Southern California is suing California in what it alleges are inadequacies in the way that state funds its ELL system. Judges in Colorado recently ruled in favor of a group of advocates, saying that "the state's school finance system is unconstitutional because it is inadequate and not rationally related to the constitutional mandate of a thorough and uniform system of free public education," according to that state's attorney general's office.

Clark County students are not receiving the resources they need to learn in K-12 schools here. It's especially evident in minority heavy neighborhoods in Southern Nevada, as ELL programs are nearly nonexistent. We may no longer just be looking at a policy failure here. This may also be a civil rights violation. And if courts start agreeing, then Nevada is in huge trouble.

As usual, Governor Brian Sandoval (R-Denial) has been acting as if there is no problem. He's used budgetary gimmicks to dress up his proposed education budget. And he's been using "sunny" rhetoric to try to spin away the bleak reality of shortchanged schools.

He may finally be approaching the point where he can no longer deny reality. This is actually a reason why we've seen more legislators show willingness to discuss "The T Word". Of course, we still don't know yet if they will actually accomplish anything. But hey, that's why The Education Initiative will be on our ballots next year.

Today may be the start of another brutal reality check. Who in Carson City is paying attention?

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