Nevada LegislatureSocial Justice

New Study, Same Old Problem: A Look Inside Nevada Schools’ Achievement Gap

Today, local children’s advocates released a new study that points to alarming inequities across our public infrastructure, including K-12 education. Though overall student achievement remains a major problem, it’s even more severe in communities of color. Why are students of color at a disadvantage, and what can be done about it? We look deeper into the numbers to find answers.

“There are many economic, social, and psychological gaps that contribute to the opportunity gap we’re seeing.”
– Dr. Tiffany Tyler, Communities in Schools Nevada and My Brother’s Keeper Las Vegas

Today, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its 2017 Race for Results study that showed Nevada and the nation continue to struggle in educational equity. Children’s Advocacy Alliance and the UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research joined the Casey Foundation in conducting the Nevada survey, and they gathered at the Cambridge Family Health Center to present the results.

The Children's Advocacy Alliance, the UNLV Lee Business School, and other community partners are releasing a new study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation measuring children's progress on health care, education, and economic well-being. This report comes after 25 days of Congress allowing the Children's Health Insurance Program (known here as Nevada Check Up) to expire. Nevada may run out of CHIP funding at the end of the year if Congress doesn't reauthorize the program soon.

Posted by Nevada Forward on Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Only 29% of Nevada fourth graders overall scored at or above proficient in reading, and only 26% of Nevada eighth graders scored at or above proficient in math. But for African-American students, those proficiency scores drop to 14% in reading at fourth grade and 8% in math at eighth grade. And for Latinx students, those proficiency scores hit 19% in reading at fourth grade and 16% in math at eighth grade.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Communities in Schools Nevada CEO Dr. Tiffany Tyler, who’s also involved in the City of Las Vegas’ My Brother’s Keeper educational equity program, explained the importance of bringing these numbers up across the board. “The lift of improving proficiency among our students is not a light lift. It’s not enough for us to ask if the homework is being done.” Tyler continued, “There are many economic, social, and psychological gaps that contribute to the opportunity gap we’re seeing.”  

“We need to look at our funding formula. We need to update that.”
– Denise Tanata, Children’s Advocacy Alliance

The Race for Results report also shows how this opportunity gap continues into high school. Overall, 71% of Nevada’s high school seniors graduate on time. But for African-American high school students, only 56% graduate on time. And for Latinx high school students, 67% graduate on time.

Denise Tanata, Executive Director of Children’s Advocacy Alliance, summed up where Nevada now stands on public education. “We have made investment in Zoom Schools and ELL [or English Language Learners], but absolutely more must be done.” Tanata then explained what she wants to change. “We need to look at our funding formula. We need to update that. We need to make sure that kids who need more services have access to the funding they need in their schools to provide those services.”

“The bottom line is that we’re too cheap in terms of general education. It affects every child.”
– Dr. Sylvia Lazos, Educate Nevada Now
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last month, we spoke extensively with Educate Nevada Now Policy Director Dr. Sylvia Lazos about Nevada’s ongoing struggles in building a more equitable public education system. Lazos even explained how the state’s 50 year old K-12 funding formula contributes to the chronic fiscal woes at Clark County School District (CCSD), Washoe County School District (WCSD), and other school districts by not taking into account various special education needs, including ELL, students with disabilities, and gifted and talented students.

For Lazos, “The bottom line is that we’re too cheap in terms of general education. It affects every child.” She then explained why Nevada’s recent educational reforms were a good start, but need more funding to make more of a difference. “We have done great things. The Governor and the Legislature worked together to develop a great blueprint, but the other side of that is buying the materials to put into building that house.”

Everyone in the room knew that education was being starved for dollars. Playing politics with kids’ lives is wrong.”
– Dr. Sylvia Lazos, Educate Nevada Now

Because the state’s K-12 funding formula was developed in 1967, it doesn’t take into account Nevada’s educational needs today. This especially hits CCSD hard, as it’s by far Nevada’s largest and most diverse school district.

Lazos still advocates long-term funding formula reform along with more investment in public education. In addition, she’d like to see Governor Brian Sandoval (R) and the Nevada Legislature agree to a special session this fall to give districts in need some of the marijuana tax revenue that’s now filling the state’s rainy day fund. “Everyone in the room knew that education was being starved for dollars. Playing politics with kids’ lives is wrong.” Lazos then called on Sandoval and the Legislature to “do something about our situation in Clark and Washoe.”

The CCSD Board of Trustees will meet tomorrow evening, and the agenda may include another round of budget cuts. Thus far, CCSD has already had to cut $43 million from this year’s school budget. Meanwhile up north, WCSD may have to cut at least $22 million from its budget. Still, Governor Sandoval refuses to call a special session of the Legislature to address either district’s budget crisis.

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