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Lombardo wants to be Nevada's 'education governor.' Here's what that could mean

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John Locher/Associated Press
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Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo announces his candidacy for governor in June.

School choice. Pay raises for all school employees and more money into education overall. Improving teacher recruitment. And for what remains of COVID-19 rules, getting rid of them in schools.

Governor Joe Lombardo wants to do what his predecessors said they wanted to do but couldn’t: Become the “education governor.”

Felicia Ortiz, the president of the Nevada State Board of Education, is on a committee advising Lombardo. She told State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann their biggest challenges are recruitment and retention, which is a national problem. The committee has discussed restoring teachers’ autonomy – removing onerous paperwork and tasks “that don’t really belong in a teacher’s classroom.”

As far as recruitment goes, they need to make the teaching position attractive both in the work and financially. They’d also like to improve teachers’ benefits.

The state is going to have extra money to work with in the upcoming legislative session, courtesy of the federal government’s pandemic funding.

“Here's the thing with that money, it's a one time injection, right?” Ortiz said. “So three years to spend it, and then it goes away. Using it on salaries is not necessarily a fiscally responsible way to spend the money because then you end up with a financial cliff. At the end of three years, you have these increased expenses, but no way to cover them. So the more fiscally responsible way to spend that money would be on assets or professional development or like one-time stipends or bonuses, but the challenge with that is … it becomes an expectation, right? … Ideally, it could be spent on things that are assets that last longer than the money.”

John Villardita is optimistic about the budget. He’s the executive director of the Clark County Education Association, a union representing 18,000 of the Clark County School District’s 40,000 educators.

He thinks Lombardo will heavily invest in per-pupil funding in addition to retention and recruitment. After the surplus runs out, “I think it begs the question as to whether or not the state and state leadership is interested in continuing the investment in education.”

Help wanted

At the start of the 2022-2023 school year, CCSD was short nearly 1,400 teachers.

Evelyn Garcia Morales, the president of the district’s Board of Trustees, said one of their priorities is Senate Bill 47, which will improve working conditions for all educators.

“And also really looking at removing the financial burden for licensure fees for individuals who are seeking the license renewal for the school district along with other other priorities,” she said.

In the next 10 years, Villardita said the district will need 14,000 more educators, and the Nevada Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation has put that number at 19,000.

“We need to build a Nevada pipeline starting in K-12, with teacher academies in every high school, that leads to them acquiring dual credit and automatic enrollment in a higher education institution and with, potentially, tuition abatement to incentivize people to go into the practice with an idea that these newly graduated educators go back into the school system and put in a certain amount of years,” he said.

Only 67% of the district’s hires are graduates from Nevada, he said. And locally, safety has also been a concern in the school district. Last May, a teacher was brutalized by a student – one of a few incidents that made the news.

“We’re going to be very aggressive on that,” he said. “I personally talked to the teacher that was brutally assaulted in Eldorado High School. I think the governor and legislative leadership know that that's an issue that has to be addressed. We have to make modifications in the law, so that the conditions are safe in the classroom, on the campus, in the bus, etc.“

Parents split on school vouchers

Rebecca Dirks Garcia, the former Nevada PTA president, runs a parents page for CCSD on Facebook. She said parents are wanting change, but are split on school vouchers, something Lombardo has been heavily pushing.

“When it comes to the specific issue of vouchers, it's really split,” she said. “There are some that say, ‘Let's give it a try.’ And then others, myself included in that, really look at how this is going to impact overall public education … When you look at research, vouchers haven't statistically, in most cases, improved education, and they generally benefit the kids who are already attending private school versus providing opportunities for students to have an alternative.“

Ortiz said their role in the education system was to ensure a quality education for all students.

“If that were another opportunity for students to have the opportunity to go to a school that is high quality, fine, but let's make sure our goal is to make sure that every school is high quality,” she said. “I feel like that's more of a bandaid than a solution. And so what we're focused on from the State Board of Education and the Department of Education’s perspective, is making sure that our entire system is moving toward a place where many of the things we've discussed today exist, such as smaller class sizes, manageable classrooms, enough support …”

There’s an active program called opportunity scholarships, Villardita said, that’s “fair game for an evaluation as to whether or not those dollars that went outside of the public school system … achieve the results they were looking for.”

But in the future, Garcia said parents need to be involved in these conversations.

“The big thing where I agree with the governor on is that often parents are not seen as a critical voice in the discussion, we deal with what comes after and are often blocked from being engaged in the process,” she said. “There are a lot of systematic issues that don't engage families as the key partner and the largest stakeholder in education.”

To read more about Lombardo’s education goals, visit his campaign website.


Guests: Rebecca Dirks Garcia, former president, Nevada PTA and admin, CCSD Parents Facebook page; Felicia Ortiz, president, Nevada State Board of Education; John Vellardita, executive director, Clark County Education Association; Evelyn Garcia Morales, president, CCSD Board of Trustees

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Kristen Kidman is the senior producer at KNPR’s State of Nevada and is proud to be from Las Vegas.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the online editor for Nevada Public Radio. She oversees and writes State of Nevada’s online and social media content.
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