By Stephanie Till
The Clark County School District’s treatment of its teachers is just the latest and most visible issue to affect Nevada’s tempest-tossed education system. Funding formulas that favor Northern Nevada schools, NSHE scandals and the failure to address the issues associated with managing a district of CCSD’s size are just the headlines that touch on the issues. As a former guest teacher, I have seen the vast differences between schools in the Las Vegas Valley and have a few observations to share.
I have overheard teachers debating whether their department should use budgeted funds to get class sets of books, student desks or testing supplies because there wasn’t room in their budget to address all three. I have experienced the profound joy of educators thankful to have enough funds to replace broken student desks that were decades old so their students didn’t have to sit on the floor anymore. I have taught in classrooms so packed with students that I had no voice left at the end of the day just because I had to practically yell just to be heard by everyone. I have listened to students complain that the exterior of their school has a fresh coat of paint but they have to share textbooks — and how ridiculous that seemed to them.
At the end of nearly every day I subbed, I wondered how anyone had the endurance to teach so many students with so few resources. I was a guest teacher for three years before I decided I could no longer be a part of the system. I had been asked to guest teach long-term as a history teacher at a school that had just terminated some of its licensed history teachers, and I could not in good conscience be a part of a system that forces dedicated trained professionals out and replaces them with “temporary” labor. This was not the education system I had fought for during the recession-driven budget crisis.
Those who have lived in Nevada since then remember college students protesting massive budget cuts that eliminated entire degree programs and slashed education budgets across the state. Student leaders and educators fought hard to be heard by legislators, the governor and the Nevada System of Higher Education as they argued for adequate education funding — and also argued that we should view education as an investment in the community, not just another expense. The students weren’t just fighting to save their schools and programs, but for education as a whole in a state that always seems to forget how powerful an educated populace can be.
Nevada could have a more diverse economy if it made education a priority because an educated workforce can draw new industries to an area. And how are we supposed to attract new companies and industries when their employees can’t be certain their children can get an adequate education because the schools don’t have enough teachers, the teachers that are there are underpaid and the resources aren’t there — unless we ask these underpaid teachers or the community to donate to the schools? We can’t, and so we become reliant upon the few industries we do have and cross our fingers that the next recession doesn’t devastate the state again.
We’ve had more than a decade to learn since the Great Recession, and yet here we are again. And it’s not just about funding. We also need greater transparency in how funding is spent. But we do need to apply dedicated funding resources like the revenue from the additional 10 percent tax on adult-use marijuana sales to education because voters chose to approve that additional revenue stream for education and so our former governor proposed that the tax to go directly to education (instead of just accepting the portion required by the passage of Question 2). That funding should not be treated like a political football or a slush fund.
We also need to have an independent audit of CCSD and hold its leadership accountable for decisions. I can somewhat understand why budget hawks are squeamish about allocating more money to an education system that seems to be in a race to the bottom. We have a budget problem, a structural problem and an integrity problem.
Promises were made and not kept. There are also so many ridiculous hoops to jump through to be able to earn a raise and though basing it on student outcomes seems like a logical step, it’s never that simple. How do you rate a teacher’s ability to teach a classroom full of students where some of the students don’t know where their next meal is coming from, where they will sleep that night, or any of the hundreds of other factors that affect a child’s ability to learn?
We don’t improve educational outcomes by treating education like an assembly line. Each student brings so much more into the classroom than his or her backpack and we need to factor that into any meaningful discussion about education. Throwing money at the problem won’t fix it, but any system that requires its employees to sacrifice and invest their own wages to fund the system’s survival is designed to fail the community it serves. We need to do better and demand better from those charged with overseeing the resources for educating the children of our community.
Stephanie Till is an education advocate, parent and researcher. She earned her Master of Arts in History at UNLV in 2017 and has called Nevada home for more than a decade.