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Post-pandemic, CCSD schools are still doing poorly. What can fix it?

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Schools across Nevada had a rough go of it during the pandemic. Kids were isolated. Parents were screaming at school board meetings. Grades were down.

The pandemic has since eased, and life has essentially returned to normal, but schools are still not doing well.

Four years ago, Nevada had 120 five-star schools. Today, just 85. At the same time, the number of 1-star schools, the worst rating, has more than doubled.

Lawmakers approved more than $2 billion in new school funding to improve student outcomes earlier this year. Governor Joe Lombardo also recently unveiled an accountability initiative to ensure state funds are making an impact. While Clark County Schools and the teachers' union have voiced tacit support for the framework, the governor admits the plan isn't "fully baked."
So, why are schools still struggling and what will it take to bring them back up to speed?

For Nevada Assemblywoman Erica Mosca (D-Las Vegas), a former teacher and former Nevada Charter School Authority member, schools have got to do a better job of getting kids back into the classroom consistently.

"Schools are really just worried about chronic absenteeism, because that can impact a lot of their points that then impacts their star rating," Mosca said.

A student is considered chronically absent if they miss 10 percent of school days per year, either with or without a valid excuse. In 2018, roughly 19 percent of students in the state were considered chronically absent. Last year, more than 34 percent missed at least 10 percent of the school year.

According to The Nevada Current's Deputy Editor, April Corbin Girnus, the only solution may be to give it some time.

"It is hard to take a bunch of students and have them [go from] distance learning where they don't have to go to school, and they don't have to show up; then, all of a sudden, bring them back into the classroom," said Corbin Girnus. "It's a hard ask for a bunch of high schoolers, especially. So, I think that those things are lingering, and it's going to take years for us to go back."
The performance framework also considers school climate or whether a school has enough staff and support to ensure students are successful. If a school has many teacher vacancies, they're likely to get a worse star rating than a school with more stable staffing. That likely impacted schools in Clark County, where there were more than 1125 teacher vacancies at the start of this school year.

Teacher vacancies have also become a significant point of contention in the ongoing negotiations between the Clark County School District and the Clark County Education Association. Union leaders have long argued that low pay and low morale force educators out of the profession.

That's why CCEA is demanding a ten percent salary increase this year and eight percent next year for all educators. In addition, they're calling for an additional $5,000 raise for educators at certain high vacancy schools, a five percent increase for special education teachers, and time and a half for work outside the classroom.

However, the district has balked at that request and instead asked a judge to step in for arbitration. In the meantime, the teachers' union has filed a lawsuit arguing that the state law prohibiting teachers from striking is unconstitutional.

"There's a lot of room there in terms of things they could still be arguing about," Corbin Girnus said. "And it's clear that given the actions of the teachers union, that they're still pretty far apart."
For Assemblywoman Erica Mosca, it's impossible to ask schools for more when they're not getting the support they need from officials.

"We can't ask for better results or accountability if we know that our schools don't even have the foundation of where they need to be to get there," she said.

Guests: Erica Mosca, community faculty associate, Roseman University College of Medicine;  April Corbin Girnus, deputy editor, The Nevada Current

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.
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