Thursday, May 9, 2013

"We Are Grossly Underfunded."

At first glance, yesterday's Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon seemed like the typical chamber of commerce luncheon. It was full of glitz and glamour... And many who are part of Nevada's ruling gaming-mining-lobbying industrial complex. Let's just say this typically isn't the kind of event where long held social injustices are bemoaned... Or even uttered aloud.

Yet yesterday, newly minted Nevada State Board of Education President Elaine Wynn did just that. She uttered aloud what's been a glaring injustice here in Nevada. And she bemoaned it. After mentioning the typical "reform" talking points that Governor Brian Sandoval (R-Denial) would happily say himself, Wynn pivoted to declare this.

However, not enough is being done, especially for minority students — which constitute the majority of students in Nevada, Wynn said.

"Our melting pot is curdling," Wynn said. "The achievement gap between the haves and have-nots is widening. … There is a sense of urgency to break the cycle of poverty, and we know it can only be done through education." [...]

However, Nevada must change, Wynn said. To effectively reform schools, Nevada lawmakers must allocate more funding for education, she said.

"Conceptually speaking, we are grossly underfunded," she said, to applause from the audience.

Wynn recalled a dinner she recently had with education philanthropist Eli Broad, founder of the Broad Superintendent Academy and the Broad Prize for Urban Education. Broad asked Wynn what Nevada's annual per-pupil expenditure was.

"When I told him, he just shook his head," Wynn said. "And he said, 'You'll never get anywhere with that.'"

How often does this happen at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon? No really, think about that. At a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Elaine Wynn laid it all out for the audience to see.

And think about this. We're now reaching the point where hardly any one can avoid the painful reality of Nevada's shortchanged schools. I've said it before, and I'll say it again today: We have been incredibly penny wise and pound foolish by failing to fund public education.

We've been neglecting our schools for far too long. And really, we've been neglecting the entirety of our public infrastructure for far too long. And without that foundation, we can never achieve a stable economy.

How many more years must we wait before we do something? Remember when we discussed this in May 2011?

Silicon Valley is the epicenter of hi-tech and e-commerce because of the presence of Stanford and UC Berkeley. San Diego has become the epicenter of biotech and medical research because of the presence of UCSD. And similar stories can be told in other western locales, such as Salt Lake City, Denver, and Tucson, where the strong presence of strong universities has led to stronger economies with more stable job markets.

But because Nevada hasn't invested as much in [...] education, we in turn have lagged behind. We mistakenly thought we could "grow our way" out of this problem by the way of artificially inflated real estate development fueled by personal debt. Now we are paying the consequences of that huge mistake. Simply put, we can't expect another "bubble" of "irrational exuberance" to "grow" us out of this crisis. The only realistic long-term solution to Nevada's economic problems involve developing the [...] educational opportunities we desperately need to grow the workforce new industries will want, leading to a more stable and diversified economy.

I stick by those words today. And I'll add PreK-12 to the mix. We can't keep ignoring this gross mistake. That's just grossly unacceptable.

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