OPINION: Sandoval priorities: Calls special session to raise taxes, abandons education reforms


NPRI logoLAS VEGAS — In response to this morning’s special Legislative Session called by Gov. Brian Sandoval, NPRI Deputy Policy Director Geoffrey Lawrence released the following comments:

Calling a special session to increase taxes, while abandoning education reforms, is the perfect encapsulation of the Nevada Legislature’s work in 2013.

For taxpayers, it’s extremely disappointing that Gov. Brian Sandoval would call a special session primarily to ensure that sales-tax rates are raised again in Clark County. At 8.25 percent, Clark County will now have one of the highest sales-tax rates in the Western United States.

The sales-tax hike sought and received by Gov. Sandoval was even greater than what lawmakers in the state Senate had agreed to during the regular session. Senators had agreed to limit the tax hike to four years; Sandoval’s proposal makes it permanent.

It is very instructive to remember what happened just months after an initial 0.25 percent sales-tax hike was implemented for “more cops” in 2005: Metro struck a new union contract that hiked pay 21.8 percent across the board. Now, Metro has nearly 900 officers taking home more than $150,000 in total compensation, according to salary data at http://transparentnevada.com.

Further, a legitimate question exists as to whether the so-called “more cops” tax is derived from valid constitutional authority. Article 4, Section 18 of the Nevada Constitution stipulates that any bill “which creates, generates, or increases any public revenue in any form” must receive two-thirds support from each chamber of the Legislature or receive majority support by a vote of the people. However, while this bill received two-thirds support, it does not actually increase any public revenue — it purports to authorize Clark County commissioners to do so, even though the constitution grants them no such authority. To be valid, the Legislature needed to vote directly on the tax.

Other disappointments from the 2013 regular and special sessions included the failure of Gov. Sandoval and lawmakers to agree on even a small $5 million program that would offer school choice to students from low-income families and a $2 million allocation to hire new teachers in Clark County from the highly successful Teach for America program.

Gov. Sandoval had claimed that these important and needed reforms were priorities for his administration. However, when Democratic leaders in the Legislature stonewalled even these small efforts, he raised no audible protest.

Instead, he rewarded them with a special session to raise taxes.

In short, there are many reasons for taxpayers to be disappointed with the 2013 sessions, and almost no silver linings. Taxpayers can only hope for stronger advocacy following the next election.

Former Superintendent Guthrie proposal: Pay best teachers $200,000 a year


NPRI logoLAS VEGAS — Paying unusually effective teachers $200,000 a year will transform the teaching profession in Nevada by attracting more top-level talent to the classroom. That’s the bold idea spelled out by former Nevada Superintendent Dr. James W. Guthrie in a new Nevada Policy Research Institute report. Guthrie was Nevada’s first appointed superintendent of public instruction.

The study, entitled The $200,000-a-Year Classroom Teacher: A New Paradigm to Rescue Nevada Public Education, details how to create — and dramatically reward — a new cadre of high-performing teachers.

“For far too long public education in Nevada has been stuck in a downward spiral,” said Guthrie. “Nevada’s education system needs a dramatic change to shake the system loose and displace entrenched special-interest groups.”

“Because teachers are rewarded for their longevity and academic credits, instead of their effectiveness, many of America’s most talented college graduates bypass teaching for professions that recognize and reward results. Offering top teachers the opportunity to earn $200,000 a year would change that paradigm and lead the cream of America’s academic crop to consider teaching in Nevada.”

Guthrie noted that identifying teachers who would be eligible to apply to become Master Teachers hinges on Nevada adding a value-added system for student and teacher assessment at a low annual cost of $3.75 per year per student. The best value-added modeling systems, while adjusting for differences in students’ backgrounds and prior performance, reveal how much academic value a teacher adds and thus help identify exceptionally effective educators.

Teachers who score in the top 10 percent would be eligible to apply to become Master Teachers, under Guthrie’s proposal. Qualifiers would also agree to remain as classroom instructors, work on a contract of 44 weeks a year, hold Master Teacher contracts only for a year or two at a time with renewable status, and have their students’ value-added test scores routinely reviewed in order to justify that they are among the highest performing 10 percent of Nevada’s teachers.

Most importantly, Master Teachers must agree to instruct at schools determined to be most in need of their services.

“With increased compensation must come increased responsibility and accountability,” said Guthrie. “There’s no lifetime tenure with the Master Teacher program. If a Master Teacher does not continue to meet these stringent criteria, he or she must not continue to be rewarded at the higher compensation level.”

Guthrie estimated that while the program could cost Nevada as much as $200 million a year, it could be funded on a revenue-neutral basis by redirecting spending that currently goes into programs of questionable consequence, such as class-size reduction.

“The evidence is perfectly clear,” he said. “Teacher quality is the most important factor in student achievement. An excellent teacher can add 18 months of learning in a year to a student, while a poor teacher adds only six months.

“In contrast, across-the-board class-size reduction is a waste of limited resources. Even the liberal Center for American Progress notes in The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction that states waste billions of dollars ‘by pursuing across-the-board reductions in class size.’

“Many legislators disregard evidence on class size to the detriment of tens of thousands of Nevada’s students. Disregarding factors that actually increase student achievement is a tragedy that disproportionally harms Nevada’s poorest and most vulnerable students.

“The $200,000-a-year classroom teacher proposal puts the focus and taxpayers’ limited resources into what matters most — high-quality teachers.”

NPRI President Andy Matthews praised the study, saying, “The current system of public education isn’t working, and to be transformed, it needs bold ideas like Dr. Guthrie’s call for a $200,000-a-year classroom teacher.

“Unlike Nevada’s current education system, which blindly funds salary increases across the pay scale, this proposal rewards the best, inspires the rest and instills accountability.”

The full study, The $200,000-a-Year Classroom Teacher: A New Paradigm to Rescue Nevada Public Education, is available at http://www.npri.org/docLib/20130426_200000_teacher_report.pdf.

NPRI reacts to Senate Republican tax increase proposal


NPRI logoCARSON CITY — Responding to today’s proposal by six Senate Republicans to more than double Nevada’s mining tax in order to increase education funding, NPRI’s deputy policy director, Geoffrey Lawrence, released the following comments:

If spending alone were the key to improving Nevada’s education system, then it’s particularly curious why educational achievement has languished over the past 50 years even as per-pupil spending has more than tripled on an inflation-adjusted basis.

This week’s news that the Clark and Washoe County School Districts each had 65-plus percent rates of failure on the math portion of the High School Proficiency Exam only further emphasizes the state’s inability to translate higher raw spending figures into classroom success.

In reality, there is no correlation nationwide between raw, per-pupil spending figures and objective measures of student achievement. What’s more important is how the money is spent, and Nevada has not spent well. Despite what the education lobby may say, the objective figures from the federal education department reveal that Nevada now spends more per pupil than a majority of its neighbors, despite getting inferior results.

If Nevada lawmakers were to pursue the same reform agenda as neighboring Arizona — which spends $900 less per pupil than Nevada — students in the Silver State would benefit dramatically. Unfortunately, Nevada lawmakers have ignored these objective facts and yielded to the demagoguery of special interests who want more money, but minimal accountability.

Lawrence noted that the Clark County School District has only fired two principals in the last 30 years and that its rate of removing poorly performing teachers is a microscopic one-tenth of one percent a year.

Spending $600 million more on education, or even $600 billion more, won’t increase student achievement in a system that consciously demands no accountability and faces only inconsequential competition.

In the private sector, poor performers are told to shape up or ship out. With this proposal, however, these Republican politicians actually seek to reward an unaccountable system that fails tens of thousands of students each year.

The entire premise of the Senate Republicans’ proposal is flawed: It’s not a lack of money that’s holding back Nevada’s education system. It’s the failure of state legislators to stand up for kids and implement the reforms that have proven effective in states across the country — even in states that spend dramatically less than Nevada.

Remarking specifically about the tax portion of the Senate Republican proposal, Lawrence continued:

Government shouldn’t pick winners and losers through the tax code. Tax policy should minimize distortions in economic behavior and allow all entrepreneurs to compete on a level playing field.

Penalizing specific industries isn’t a valid goal of tax policy.

If lawmakers want to have a discussion about revenues from mining, it should center around how Nevada can take back the 85 percent of its lands currently controlled by the federal government. If these lands became available for private ownership and development, then state and local governments could reap immediate revenues from private auction as well as ongoing property tax revenues while miners could claim ownership over the minerals contained in their property without jumping through complex bureaucratic hoops.

Further, if changes to the way Nevada collects taxes are to be considered at all, it should be on a revenue-neutral basis only. There’s merit to tax reforms such as simplifying the tax code, eliminating tax-induced distortions, and reducing volatility. But the facts make it clear that Nevada’s failures don’t result from a lack of revenue — they result from the continued inability of policymakers to allocate existing resources well.

NPRI: Assembly Republicans’ plan would reform education while defending taxpayers


NPRI logoCARSON CITY — In response to an Assembly Republican press conference on education policy, NPRI’s Deputy Policy Director Geoffrey Lawrence released the following comments:

The education-reform agenda announced by the Assembly Republicans is quite encouraging in many respects. Like Governor Sandoval, Assembly Republicans have grasped that, in public education, we frequently don’t get what we pay for, and that some programs are vastly more cost-effective than others.

They also grasp that Nevada taxpayers — who, of course, must also provide for their own, private household needs — necessarily have only limited resources. Which means it is incumbent upon policymakers to choose the most cost-effective solutions available and forego those that are less effective.

Lawrence noted that the most efficient way to improve student achievement without further burdening taxpayers is to improve accountability by allowing parents to choose where and how their child will be educated. “With choice comes consumer discipline,” he said, “which allows the forces of the marketplace to weed out ineffective educators while the most talented educators are rewarded.”

He continued:

It’s particularly encouraging to see that Assembly Republicans, along with Governor Sandoval, call for a tax-credit scholarship program. States as diverse as Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island now boast these programs that provide financing to primarily low-income children. Tax-credit scholarships allow these children to escape failing neighborhood schools and instead attend private schools of their choice. For these children, this opens up untold possibilities that would otherwise never be available.

Because choice programs like tax-credit scholarships are most beneficial to families with limited incomes, they have been supported by policymakers from all points on the political spectrum. It’s also why important commentators on the political Left have characterized school choice as “a civil rights issue.”

Lawrence noted that longitudinal studies have repeatedly shown that full-day kindergarten — like other early-education programs — fails to produce lasting gains in student achievement. Speaking directly of these programs, he said:

While these ideas might sound great in theory, decades of evidence have demonstrated that they do not accomplish what their proponents promise. The point of all education spending should be to improve a child’s achievement over a lifetime, and these programs’ results fade almost immediately.

Although not highlighted by Assembly Republicans, class-size reduction is also an expensive program that has failed to produce results. Nevada taxpayers have now poured more than $2.2 billion into this program and, yet, the state’s own data has shown that students in larger classes have outperformed their peers in smaller classes.

What is the greatest variable impacting student achievement that schools can control? By a huge margin — research has shown — it’s the quality of the teacher. That’s why it’s essential for Nevada to establish meaningful teacher evaluations built on sound, longitudinal tracking of student performance. Once the best teachers have been identified, they should be handsomely rewarded, while those who are ineffective should be assisted to improve their skills with additional training — or encouraged to exit the classroom.

Lawrence further noted that every tax dollar used to bail out Nevada’s struggling Public Employees’ Retirement System or on excessive building costs is a dollar that is unavailable for classroom spending. He concluded:

Assembly Republicans recognize that the budget process is about tradeoffs, and that if they want to spend more on education, they must find savings elsewhere. That’s why it’s so important to end the unnecessary hundreds of millions wasted by Nevada’s prevailing wage requirements, as 10 other states, facing similar challenges, have done since the 1980s. Also, PERS reform is paramount if that system is to remain solvent. Otherwise, taxpayers will continue to be compelled to dump more and more into the system each year to attempt to keep up with its large and growing unfunded liability.

NPRI: Kirkpatrick wrong on education-spending claims


NPRI logoLAS VEGAS — In a speech earlier today, Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick claimed, “For too long the answer to education has been to cut.” Responding to her comments, Victor Joecks, communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, issued the following comments:

Speaker Kirkpatrick’s statement that “for far too long the answer to education has been to cut” is wrong and ignores 50 years of Nevada’s history of education spending.

In 1960, Nevada spent $430 per pupil. In 2009, it spent $8,865 per student. Even after adjusting for inflation, Nevada has nearly tripled per-pupil spending in the last 50 years. Nevertheless, results have been stagnant — a reality that advocates, for their own credibility, need to acknowledge.

On the state level, per-pupil funding through the Distributive School Account has increased from $4,298 in 2004 to $5,374 in 2013. DSA funding has increased nine of the last 10 years, with the only decrease being a mere $26-a-student drop in 2010. Would anyone but a politician characterize a $1,076 increase as a “cut”?

Nevada will never solve the problem of its chronically failing education system until state leaders get honest about what’s already been tried.

For 50 years, Nevada has tried reflexively spending more. It’s never worked — unless the real purpose, all along, has been to channel taxpayer dollars to unions that then give campaign donations to subservient politicians.

It’s well past time that all elected officials understand and accurately portray Nevada’s education-spending history.

Joecks noted that, in Nevada State Superintendent James Guthrie’s academic career, Guthrie repeatedly exposed the myth of education cuts. He wrote that “Chicken Little is alive and seemingly employed as a finance analyst or reporter for an education interest group.” In an article entitled “The phony funding crisis,” Guthrie noted:

For a variety of reasons, from one year to the next, schools almost always have more real revenue for each of their enrolled students. For the past hundred years, with rare and short exceptions and after controlling for inflation, public schools have had both more money and more employees per student in each succeeding year.

Joecks concluded:

Spending more hasn’t increased student achievement, but research shows what does work is school choice. School choice programs have raised graduation rates in D.C. and increased math and reading scores in Milwaukee and Charlotte, and the mere competition generated from school choice increased public school outcomes in Milwaukee and Florida.

Properly structured, school choice programs also save tax dollars.

It’s time for Nevada to join 21 other states and Washington, D.C. and empower parents with the ability to select the school and school type that’s best for their child.

OPINION: Top 10 ideas for bill draft requests: 1-5

By Geoffrey Lawrence

The polls are closed. The excitement is over. Nevadans now know who will represent them during the 2013 legislative session.

Now the real work begins.

The Silver State faces challenges on nearly every front. Its economy remains beleaguered, its public education system is failing and its public finances are a mess.

That means it will take a lot more than talking points for Nevada’s new lawmakers to turn the state around. It will take concrete and specific ideas that are capable of effecting positive change.

Developing those ideas is the mission of the Nevada Policy Research Institute and a key reason why NPRI produces policy guides such as Solutions 2013: A Sourcebook for Nevada Policymakers. Solutions 2013 points to specific bills enacted in other states or to draft legislation that would address many of the challenges confronting Nevada.

But, given the size of the task, it will be easy for lawmakers to become overwhelmed in their efforts to make Nevada a better place.

Therefore, we’ve produced a “Top 10″ list of legislative proposals for 2013, five of which are covered below, with the other five addressed in a subsequent piece. With this list, lawmakers can focus on the changes that will make the biggest difference in terms of better opportunities for Nevadans:

1. Create a public-education tax credit and scholarship. Nevada currently suffers from the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation — a problem that negatively impacts Nevadans’ earning potential and capacity for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic vitality. What’s more, children from Nevada’s low-income neighborhoods are more likely than others to be zoned into a failing school. That means the failures of Nevada’s public school system contribute to a cycle of poverty and government dependency in these neighborhoods.

Nevada’s children deserve better. No child should be forced to attend a failing school. But parents who cannot afford a private-school alternative on their own, or who aren’t lucky enough to win a charter-school lottery, often have no choice but to send their children to schools that fail to prepare their students for success in life. That’s why it’s imperative that Nevada lawmakers offer these families a way out by providing the financial resources with which parents can send their children to schools of their choosing through a public education tax credit.

In the past, some lawmakers have tried to amend the state’s constitution in order to allow for a voucher program. However, the amendment process is a lengthy one and Nevada’s families need help now. A public education tax credit can be implemented immediately. Such a program, designed for Nevada by Cato Institute scholar Andrew Coulsen at NPRI’s request, would allow businesses to direct their tax payments into a scholarship fund from which families could draw private-school tuition. While a universal program would have the greatest impact, some states with similar scholarship programs target those scholarships specifically to low-income or special-needs students.

Read more: Solutions 2013, p. 32 in the PDF, p. 30 in the book

2. Create a hybrid retirement system. The official figures for Nevada’s Public Employee Retirement System indicate that the system was underfunded by $10.4 billion at the close of FY 2010. However, PERS’ accounting assumptions fail to account for risk in its investment portfolio, the way private pension plans are required to do. If PERS followed the same accounting rules that are required of private plans, its unfunded liability would be around $41 billion.

This large and growing unfunded liability impinges on state and local government budgets more and more each year, as taxpayers’ required-contribution rates rise in order to help pay down the debt. This means that state, county and city offices have only a decreasing share of their budget with which to provide public services, since an increasing share goes to service the retirement debt.

Nevada cannot afford for this trend to continue. Already, growing retirement costs have forced a wave of municipal bankruptcies across the country. And other states have responded by modifying the benefits structure of their retirement systems. NPRI has recommended that Nevada — as Utah has done — move to a hybrid retirement system that combines elements of a defined-benefits plan and a defined-contribution plan.

Read more: Solutions 2013, p. 24 in the PDF, p. 22 in the book

3. Demand transfer of federal lands. Nevada’s people reside on only a bit more than 10 percent of the state’s land. The rest has been taken from them by federal authorities.

Congress’ requirement, at the time of statehood, that Nevada forever cede right and title to most of the land within its borders was and is a clear violation of the state’s constitutional equal-footing rights. Eastern states were never subjected to this requirement. That’s why no issue has enjoyed as widespread support as the effort to assert the state’s equal-footing rights and return Nevada’s land to its people. In the 1990s lawmakers from both legislative chambers voted unanimously to remove the disclaimer of interest in public lands — required by a Civil War Congress — from Nevada’s constitution. Still, the amendment requires either congressional consent to become effective or a judicial determination that congressional consent is not required.

Since Congress, for 16 years, has refused to take a vote on this issue, the remaining option is for Nevada to pursue legal action that assures the state’s equal-footing rights are protected. A clear course of action is to pass state legislation that contradicts offensive federal land statutes — allowing Nevada to acquire standing to challenge unconstitutional federal land claims before the U.S. Supreme Court. Utah already took such action with the passage of HB 148 earlier this year.

Read more: Solutions 2013, p. 84 in the PDF, p. 82 in the book

4. Create a charter agency framework. It’s no secret that Nevada confronts fiscal challenges in the immediate future due to rising spending and stagnant revenue growth. To meet these challenges, lawmakers need to move to a budgeting approach that allows agency directors the flexibility they need to achieve the policy outcomes envisioned by lawmakers in the most cost-effective manner possible.

But lawmakers needn’t re-invent the wheel, either. The charter agency framework adopted by Iowa in 2003, under the leadership of former governor Tom Vilsack, gives agency directors wide latitude to hire or dismiss employees, provide incentive bonuses, make purchasing decisions or outsource certain agency functions as they see fit in order to provide high-quality services at the lowest cost possible. In exchange for this freedom, agency directors must sign performance contracts and be held to a higher level of accountability — something more akin to a private-sector CEO. Nevada lawmakers should create a charter agency framework based on Iowa’s SF 453 and HF 837 and allow agencies to opt in.

Read more: Solutions 2013, p. 8 in the PDF, p. 6 in the book

5. Change collective-bargaining parameters. Nevada’s collective-bargaining laws create a disincentive for union representatives to negotiate in good faith with local governments, especially during times of fiscal stress. That’s because most collective-bargaining agreements (CBAs) contain “evergreen” clauses that ensure that an expiring agreement will remain in force until a new agreement is signed. At the same time, the binding arbitration process outlined in NRS 288 can take up to a year to complete and is routinely decided in favor of unions by out-of-state arbitrators.

Together, these provisions mean that union representatives can, and do, disingenuously stall negotiations, refusing to make concessions during times of fiscal stress, knowing that their current CBA will remain in effect. Eliminating evergreen clauses or changing the binding arbitration process would force union representatives to negotiate in good faith.

In addition, for cities like North Las Vegas that face the looming possibility of bankruptcy due to overly generous union contracts, a legal mechanism for suspending or renegotiating CBAs should be established. At the very least, the state tax department should have the ability to suspend CBAs if they are forced to assume fiscal management of a bankrupt city or county.

Read more: Solutions 2013, p. 58 in the PDF, p. 56 in the book

Geoffrey Lawrence is deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org.

Study touts new measures for teacher effectiveness

By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

Gov. Brian Sandoval. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

CARSON CITY – As Nevada policy makers work to ensure that ineffective teachers are removed from classrooms around the state, a new report released today provides evidence to support the use of test scores to measure how much individual teachers contribute to pupil achievement.

Using quantitative measures to evaluate teachers, known as value-added modeling, remains controversial, said Marcus Winters, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute’s Center for State and Local Leadership.

But in his report released today called “Transforming Tenure: Using Value-Added Modeling to Identify Ineffective Teachers,”- Winters said his analysis using data from Florida public schools shows that a VAM score in a teacher’s third year in the classroom is a good predictor of that teacher’s success in the fifth year of teaching after receiving tenure.

“VAM is not a perfect measure of teacher quality because, like any statistical test, it is subject to random measurement errors,” Winters said in his report. “So it should not be regarded as the ‘magic bullet’ solution to the problem of evaluating teacher performance.

“However, the method is reliable enough to be part of a sensible policy of tenure reform – one that replaces ‘automatic’ tenure with rigorous evaluation of new candidates and periodic reexamination of those who have already received tenure,” he said.

Winters, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, discussed his report in a telephone conference today with the news media.

“The idea is by looking at student test scores and by matching students to their teachers, we can identify which are the effective teachers – which are the teachers that are having a positive effect on student learning as measured by their test score growth – and which teachers are just not doing as well,” he said.

The findings show that the value-added analysis is a good predictor of future teacher performance, Winters said.

“What this means is that value-added is potentially a useful tool for identifying a teacher’s future performance, which is what we really want out of an evaluation system,” he said. “And on top of that, I show that value-added is actually a far better predictor of a teacher’s future performance than is a measure that is commonly used by the current system, which is obtainment of a master’s degree.”

The analysis comes as Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is pushing for improved teacher accountability as a way to improve student achievement. Sandoval was successful in getting a number of reforms passed in the 2011 legislative session, including a requirement that student achievement data must be at least half of, but not the sole factor, in evaluating teachers.

Lawmakers also supported the creation of the Teachers and Leaders Council of Nevada, which is charged with making recommendations by December of this year to the state Board of Education for the creation of a statewide performance evaluation system for teachers and administrators.

The Board of Education has until June 1, 2013 to adopt regulations establishing the performance evaluation system, which then must be implemented in the state’s 17 school districts by the 2013-2014 school year.

Overall teacher performance will be ranked as highly effective, effective, minimally effective or ineffective.

The 2011 legislative changes also require an additional probationary period for teachers and administrators who receive unsatisfactory evaluations.

Sandoval is expected to pursue further education reforms in the upcoming legislative session, including ending social promotion of students.

Tennessee was the first state to develop and use value-added models, according to the Data Quality Campaign.

Lawmakers endorse new weighted funding formula for public education

CARSON CITY – A panel of lawmakers today recommended that Nevada’s public education funding formula be revised to take into account the higher cost of educating specific groups of students, including English-language learners and children in poverty.

But lawmakers also acknowledged that updating the formula won’t mean any significant changes in funding for the state’s 17 school districts until the state’s economy improves and tax revenues increase.

There is no proposal to shift current funding from one district to another to fund a new weighted formula.

The New Method for Funding Public Schools interim study was authorized by the 2011 Legislature to look at the “Nevada Plan” the current funding formula adopted in 1967. The Clark County School District sought the review to look at whether the state’s education funding plan needs to include additional funding for educating specific groups of students.

The six lawmakers serving on the panel supported the recommendation to revise the formula, which will be presented to the Legislature when the 2013 session gets under way.

But lawmakers deferred to the Department of Education the technical details of which groups should be included and how the different categories of students should be weighted in any new funding formula. Other groups that could be included in a weighted formula are gifted and talented and career and technical education, among others.

“The committee, I think, could find quick and unanimous support for the recommendation that we as a state consider changing our K-12 funding formula to one that considers a variety of different weights, including but not limited to; and then a comprehensive list,” said Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno. “That tees up the issue then for the next session. It tells the Legislature as a whole that this committee did its job, it studied the issue and it decided it was worthy of legislative consideration.”

The recommendation came after the Clark County School District provided $125,000 to the legislative panel to hire a consultant to study the issue. The consultant, American Institutes for Research, issued a final report which found in part: “As low‐income students and English learners are widely accepted in the mainstream education finance literature to be associated with higher educational costs, it is our strong recommendation that funding adjustments be incorporated into the current funding system to account for these student need cost factors.”

The report found that Nevada is not in line with most other states on funding, being one of 14 states that does not adjust funding for low-income students and one of eight that does not account for the cost of English learners.

“I think what we’ve learned is that the 1967 formula is no longer adequate,” said Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks. “I think everybody on this committee agrees with that. It doesn’t meet the needs that it was originally intended to do.”

OPINION: Protecting bad teachers job No. 1 for NSEA


By Victor Joecks

Last month, the Nevada State Education Association voted to not endorse Democratic challenger John Oceguera in his race for Nevada’s 3rd congressional seat against Republican Rep. Joe Heck.

Since endorsing Democrats is usually a formality for the NSEA, the news was surprising. Why didn’t Oceguera receive the endorsement of the hyper-partisan NSEA?

As reported by the Las Vegas Sun, NSEA President Lynn Warne said the reason the association didn’t endorse Oceguera was his support for some minor education-reform bills in the last legislative session, specifically AB 225. The bill allows schools greater leeway to fire poorly performing teachers with post-probationary status — commonly known as tenure — after three consecutive years of poor performance.

While AB 225 represents an improvement over the old system, where 95 percent of teachers received tenure after one year of teaching and became virtually impossible to fire afterward, the new system only allows a bad teacher with tenure to be removed after three years of poor performance.

In other words, a poor teacher would be able to harm the education of 50 to 100 or more students before a school is able to remove him or her for subpar performance. The stakes here are exceptionally high for students, because students with poor teachers learn only half as much as they would with an average teacher and a third as much as they would with an excellent teacher.

To parents, administrators, taxpayers, students and even other teachers, employing the worst performing teachers is a terrible thing. Teachers are there to educate students; students aren’t there to employ teachers.

Except that’s not how Warne, NSEA and teacher unions around the country see it. As revealed by their actions, keeping bad teachers employed is one of their highest priorities, even though keeping bad teachers employed harms your children and the children in your neighborhood.

Now, union bosses never say they want to hurt children, of course. Instead, they claim they want to make sure the process is fair or to protect “due process.” But what they do reveals their priority — not education, but keeping dues-paying, bad teachers in the classroom.

Looking at the history of AB 225 provides some insight. As originally proposed and passed by the full Assembly and the Senate Education Committee, AB 225 provided that a tenured teacher could be placed on probationary status after two years of poor performance and then let go after three years. Even this modest reform, however, was not to “apply if superseded by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.”

This would allow union bosses to claim during the legislative session that they’re in favor of removing bad teachers from the classroom, but — thanks to the enormous power the unions have under NRS 288 — effectively kill the reform months later during Nevada’s secretive collective bargaining negotiations, when the media and the public are excluded.

An amendment to remove this restriction failed in the Senate Education Committee, when the committee’s four Democrats — Chair Mo Denis, Vice Chair Ruben Kihuen, Valerie Wiener and Sheila Leslie — outvoted the committee’s three Republicans — Barbara Cegavske, Don Gustavson and Greg Brower.

NSEA even proposed an amendment to further weaken AB 225. It would have:

  1. Required unsatisfactory evaluations to be finished and the subject of conferences by Feb. 1
  2. Added an additional arbitration for teachers contesting an unsatisfactory evaluation
  3. Required that post-probationary teachers who continued to perform unsatisfactorily be given “intensive assistance”
  4. Added the reclassification of a post-probationary teacher to the bargaining contract’s definition of a demotion

While the proposals sound innocuous, each would have created significant additional hoops for administrators to jump through. And if administrators missed a single deadline or lost one arbitrator’s decision, that teacher would have returned to the classroom and continued to harm your children.

Fortunately, the Senate Education Committee didn’t even put the NSEA’s amendment up for a vote.

However, only after Gov. Brian Sandoval acquiesced and agreed to a tax increase did AB 225, as part of the budget agreement, get amended to ensure that its provisions could not be superseded by collective bargaining agreements.

In its legislative update, NSEA bemoaned that AB 225 wasn’t neutered, writing that “this amendment also dictates that local bargaining agreements cannot supersede or alter state law and, thus, we cannot bargain anything better when it comes to veteran teachers who become probationary again.” (Emphasis added.)

NSEA bosses’ own words reveal they think it would be “better” to place obstacles in the way of removing poorly performing teachers from the classroom.

NSEA’s attitude is the norm across the country, where teacher unions are fighting tooth and nail to keep the very worst teachers in front of our kids.

Moreover, the union contract provisions that protect bad teachers are also keeping sexually perverse teachers in front of kids or on school district payrolls around the country.

As recently reported by the New York Daily News, in New York, 16 teachers, found by administrators to have made sexually abusive statements or performed sexually abusive actions with students, were returned to working with children after arbitrators reduced their punishments:

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said education officials could have taken additional steps to fire the teachers singled out by Walcott.

“If the Department of Education believes that the hearing officer has made an egregious error, it can appeal the arbitration decision to the state courts,” said Mulgrew.

But Education officials said that the legal standard for overturning an arbitrator’s decision is very difficult to meet — and none of the cases would have met that standard. …

And two of the 16 teachers identified by Walcott have been put on desk duty after new allegations against them surfaced.

Edward Cascio, formerly a gym teacher at Brooklyn Tech High School, was accused of asking a male student to send him naked cell phone pictures of his ex-girlfriend. An arbitrator determined that Cascio didn’t ask for the naughty pictures but instead replied “yeah, sure” when they were offered.

Former PS 366 music teacher Michael Dalton was accused of putting his groin against a student, having a child on his lap and kissing another on the forehead. The arbitrator found firing wasn’t necessary because these were “isolated occurrences” and Dalton could change his conduct.

Officials would not provide details about the new charges against the pair.

In Los Angeles, where the Los Angeles Times notes that “firing teachers can be a costly and tortuous task,” the school district paid a teacher $40,000 to drop his challenge to being fired. The teacher was fired — and do not read this if you have a queasy stomach — after photos surfaced of him appearing to spoon-feed his semen to blindfolded children.

The district settled with the alleged pervert, however, because officials weren’t certain they would win on appeal.

In the aftermath of the scandal, the Los Angeles Times brought to light that under the union contract:

[A]lleged misconduct that does not result in discipline is removed from personnel files after four years. The provision dates to the early 1990s when the L.A. Unified School District agreed to it in exchange for teachers taking a 10% pay cut.”

The policy has limited L.A. Unified’s ability to deal with misconduct allegations against teachers and weed out potential problem instructors. The most explosive allegations involved former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct for allegedly photographing students blindfolded, gagged and being spoon-fed his semen.

Several earlier investigations and complaints about his conduct — none of which ever resulted in criminal charges or discipline — were not in his record.

In their opposition to firing bad teachers, NSEA officials like to claim they’re only trying to “protect due process rights.” In reality, they and union officials around the country want a “process” so byzantine that it’s impossible to fire even sexual perverts, let alone ineffective teachers.

For the sake of your children and every child you know, this must end.

We must fire bad teachers.

Victor Joecks is communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org.

Nevada among states chosen to redesign teacher evaluation systems


WASHINGTON, DC—The National Governors Association today announced four states and territories–Colorado, Guam, Nevada and North Carolina–have been selected to participate in the State Strategies to Evaluate Teacher Effectiveness Policy Academy.

Teacher effectiveness has long been a priority for governors. They have worked with other state leaders to redesign evaluation systems so they can more constructively assess teacher knowledge and drive performance management decisions such as compensation, professional development and retention. Improved evaluation systems could also provide critical information for decisions about pay, and also potentially for teacher tenure and assignment.

This policy academy will allow participating states to assemble leadership teams of governors’ advisors, chief state school officers and district and union leaders to develop and plan for the implementation of new statewide teacher evaluation policies.

States will receive in-depth technical assistance from NGA and its partners, including two policy academy meetings that will pair state leadership teams with leading national experts to develop and plan to implement rigorous teacher evaluation strategies. The policy academy will also promote the use of evaluation results to manage and improve performance.

“The ability of states to identify effective teaching and connect these results to key staffing decisions is critical to ensuring teacher quality,” said Dane Linn, director of the NGA Center’s Education Division. “This grant program will help states build consensus and understanding among policymakers and key stakeholders about the need to systematically improve teacher evaluation and performance management systems.”

This grant program is made possible through generous support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For more information, please visit www.nga.org/cms/center/edu.