Nevada Assembly Approves Major Education Initiatives


A bill passed in the Nevada Assembly requires that all third grade students who fail reading must be held back, and now the bill is on its way to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s desk for signing.

Trevon Millard of the Reno-Gazette Journal reports that the governor’s signature is certain since it is an important piece of his education agenda. The measure would go into effect in 2019 for all third-graders who do not pass the state’s standardized test in reading.

Over a third of Washoe County School District’s third graders could be repeating the grade if achievement does not improve. Each year, around 36% of the district’s third grade students fail the Nevada Criterion Referenced Tests. One in three of the 36,000 third-grade students statewide fail the reading test each year, but until now, kids who struggle with reading have been passed on to fourth grade.

The bipartisan bill passed by unanimous vote in the Senate and passed in the Assembly 38-4. Third grade students who fail the test will be allowed to move on to the fourth grade if they: take and pass an alternative test approved by the State Board of Education; exhibit proficiency in their work projects and tests; are English as a second language students and have received less than two years of schooling; had been held back in a previous grade because of reading inadequacies; or are special education students and have been waived from taking state tests.

Opponents disapprove of the price tag — $27 million over two years — but Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson (D-North Las Vegas) said the money isan investment. He shared that prison systems calculate future incarceration rates based on the rate of illiterate students. Assemblyman Elliot Anderson (D-Las Vegas) said:

“We can either spend the money now or spend it later.”

The National Institute for Literacy reports that by the end of third grade students should be reading fluently. There is a transition during this grade from learning to read into reading to learn. In order for this to happen, the bill mandates that local school boards make literacy a priority from kindergarten through third grade by the addition of learning strategists and initiating programs of intensive instruction for students who struggle to read.

Senate Bill 391 includes notifying parents if their child is having problems with reading and sending a warning that the student could be held back if he or she does not improve. Struggling students will not be held back for the entire school year if, at any time, they display attainment of third grade reading proficiency.

Another education bill was signed by the governor last week which would allow more noncitizens to access teaching certificates in the state, a much-needed move which could help alleviate the teacher shortage in Clark County, writes Sandra Chereb for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Assembly Bill 27 will begin the process of licensing immigrants who have temporary legal status when any type of teacher shortage exists.

The bill was passed by unanimous approval and was labeled an “important moment for education in our state” by Gov. Sandoval. Hundreds of teaching positions are needed in Clark County, one of the nation’s largest school districts. Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction, Dale Erquiaga, added that this move will be a boon to the state’s immigrant population and will bring more multi-lingual teachers into the classrooms, expanding cultural diversity in the process.

Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, D-North Las Vegas, said it allows so-called DREAMers, young immigrant beneficiaries of Obama’s policy, “who have passed criminal background checks and have received work permits and meet all other standard requirements to now become licensed teachers in Nevada.”

And, in the area of higher education, the Board of Regents for the state has sent information to the Assembly about funding needed by the system. The Nevada System of Higher Education has a list of requests that are over $85 million above the governor’s budget, but cites the decrease of 30% in funding from 2009 to 2013 as the reason for the proposal. Until now, the NSHE has balanced its budget by tuition increases, larger faculty workloads, cuts of staff wages, layoffs, program deletions, and student support cuts.

“We remain positive that we have given those who make decisions the information they need,” Vice Chancellor for Government and Community Affairs Constance Brooks said. “We know we do not exist in isolation and there are many state agencies with discrepancies with what is funded and needed.”

The NSHE wishlist includes: merit pay for faculty and administrators; starting a University of Nevada, Las Vegas medical school; $5 million for smaller colleges in the state as temporary funding affected negatively by the new state funding formula; an additional $5 per weighted student credit hour across all institutions of higher ed; $6 million for funding community college programs to create courses and programs which would allow for partnering with private industry; and funds for scholarships.