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How Can Nevada Succeed? A Conversation with Nevada Succeeds President Brent Husson on Public Education

How do we improve public education in Nevada? As the President of Nevada Succeeds, Brent Husson works on answering this question every day. We spoke with Husson recently about how he and his organization approach this and other critical questions on education policy, and tackle the most difficult questions surrounding education funding.

“If we want our kids to succeed, this is not something you want to skimp on.”
– Brent Husson, Nevada Succeeds

Nevada Succeeds occupies a unique perch in Nevada’s ecosystem of organizations that work in the K-12 education field. It was formed as a business advocacy group that advocates for public schools. Since then, Nevada Succeeds has evolved into a business-minded group that’s made education policy, and education funding, its business.

Brent Husson himself approaches this issue from a unique perspective. A self-identified conservative, Husson supports more funding for public schools and better pay for teachers. Why? For Husson, “If we want our kids to succeed, this is not something you want to skimp on.”

“We need to have a different conversation on how we get more money into the system.”
– Brent Husson, Nevada Succeeds

Though Husson wants Nevada’s public schools better funded, he understands the hardened opposition to doing this. According to Husson, “We need to have a different conversation on how we get more money into the system.”

So what kind of conversation do we need? For starters, Husson agrees with other education advocates who have pointed out that Nevada doesn’t just fund schools inadequately, but also inequitably. “What we did was we funded education, and some kids got more, but it didn’t move the needle for everyone.”

Though Husson supported Governor Brian Sandoval’s (R) 2015 tax and education reform package, he also recognized its greatest shortcoming: Its reliance on categorical funds. “We need to move our categorical funding to the weighted funding formula. We need to find more money to weight those appropriately.” While Husson supports targeted programs to help underserved students, he sees the need to update the state’s 50 year old K-12 funding formula and boost overall school funding.

“If [teachers] are going to act like professionals, we need to pay them like professionals.”
– Brent Husson, Nevada Succeeds

Husson then insisted that any conversation on school funding and overall education reform must include the teachers who are in the classroom every school day. “We need to find new ways to support our human talent. When you talk about education funding, 90% of that spending goes to human beings,” Husson said. “They need more resources, and they need to approach their jobs differently.”

What does Husson want teachers (and administrators) to approach differently? “Incentivize educators to do what’s in the system’s best interest, which is to encourage more collaboration in the classroom.” Husson wants to change the state’s licensure process to a system where educators get more targeted training that pertains to what they want to do in the classroom. He also wants schools to develop more of a culture of peer support, where newer teachers are freer to seek advice and assistance from more experienced teachers who have plenty of wisdom to share.

Husson then wants to reform the pay structure into one that rewards teachers’ performance in the classroom. He also supports giving teachers better salaries that are more in line with what similarly trained professionals earn in the private sector. “We would like to see a compensation system that approaches the educating profession as a critical industry. […] If they are going to act like professionals, we need to pay them like professionals.”

“If you don’t do anything differently going forward, you won’t have different outcomes.”
– Brent Husson, Nevada Succeeds

As Husson was explaining the reforms Nevada Succeeds is pursuing, we asked him this critical question: How do we pay for all of this? Clark County School District is trying to dig its way out of an estimated $50-60 million budget deficit, and Washoe County School District fears another $22-28 million budget shortfall materializing next year. With Nevada’s two largest school districts stuck in a seemingly never-ending cycle of structural deficits, what can the state do to stop the chronic bleeding?

For one, Husson offered this recommendation: “If you don’t do anything differently going forward, you won’t have different outcomes.” He then explained why he’s convinced that reforms to professional development and school structure must be included in any future proposal to direct more tax revenue to public schools. “If they can’t get a tax bill passed, and if you can’t get the people to vote for it, you have to convince the taxpayer that it’s worth it,” Husson declared.

Husson expressed hope that these kinds of reforms will not only lead to more support for funding public schools, but ultimately better outcomes for students. “You have to have great outcomes in your schools. Great outcomes come from great teachers. Great teachers come from better collaboration.”

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