A historic tax hike of more than a billion dollars will soon help reform K-12 education in Nevada. But how will that money be tracked to make sure it supports real improvement? And during such a severe teacher shortage, who will even be on the ground level to implement change?
To get the answers, Reno Public Radio’s Michelle Bliss talked to Dale Erquiaga, the state superintendent of public instruction. Their conversation is part of our series Making It To Graduation.
For the 2013-2014 school year, Nevada's high school graduation rate sat near the very bottom of the national barrel at just 70 percent. Compare that to, say, Texas or Iowa where close to 90 percent of their students are receiving a diploma.
"They differentiate funding based on the type of child," Erquiaga explains. "We're preparing to do that."
Under Sandoval's tax plan, the state will increase per-pupil funding for special, targeted populations, including students in poverty, English language learners, and special education students.
Erquiaga is hopeful that the additional spending will increase test scores and the graduation rate, but he says those systemic improvements will take time. Already, though, he has seen a boost in morale among teachers because of the state's increased attention to education.
"I think we've been very hard on the teaching profession in the past few years," he explains. "We've talked about accountability and we put in place evaluation systems, but we haven't backed it up with our own moral support and certainly not the funding."
Now that the funding has been secured, the state must find a way to attract and hire thousands of new teachers to implement new initiatives on the ground level because of Nevada's severe teacher shortage.
"We have a program for reading by third grade," Erquiaga explains, "and we might not have enough literacy specialists for our state."
In an effort to recruit new teachers, the state will offer 100 Teach Nevada Scholarships to education students along with giving $20 million in incentives to new teachers who choose to work at the state's most at-risk schools.