Building a Public Education Counter-Movement in the Las Vegas Area

At the K-12 levels, high-quality teachers and well-run schools are essential to student achievement. However, public educators are largely being blamed for struggling students rather than focusing on larger systemic issues such as children in poverty, unsafe neighborhoods and substandard schools which can make it difficult to learn (1). Although there is a lot of focus on education problems by policymakers, there is little presented in the way of research-based solutions. The current “corporate school reform movement” adequately describes the nature of low achievement in economically deprived areas, yet the proposed solutions fail to logically or effectively
address the problems. Instead, pre-determined ideological positions on issues such as standards (e.g., high-stakes testing of students to evaluate teachers) and charter schools are offered by stakeholders that miss connections to the substantial research base (2). Charter schools, often held up as the panacea for improving education, are controversial because they are still an experiment in mostly publicly funded but privately managed schools that largely bypass unions and produce mixed results (3, 4).

The Case of Clark County School District in Southern Nevada:
Clark County School District (CCSD) in Southern Nevada, which includes the city of Las Vegas, is the fifth largest school district in the nation. CCSD is the largest public employer in Nevada with more than 37,300 total employees and has been relying on increased class sizes across all grade levels to help make up for lost state support and declining local tax revenue since the 2008 economic downturn (5). Nevada is already facing the highest drop-out rate in the nation (6) and CCSD has the second largest English Language Learner (ELL) population in the U.S. (next to California’s Los Angeles County). Yet, Nevada is one of only eight states that doesn’t offer additional funds for ELL students (7).

In spring of 2012, after a nasty contract dispute, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) teachers union in a case against the school district for not bargaining in good faith. After a bitter 10-month battle, the arbitrator’s binding decision was that the district had the ability to pay salary step and education increases to its 18,000 teachers, per its contract with the local teachers union (8, 9). The school district responded by announcing it would have to lay off 1,015 teachers and literacy specialists (10); then followed through with issuing 419 pink slips this past summer – after 600 teachers resigned or retired – sparking a string of mass teacher, parent and community protests (11, 12). A week later, the school board hired 50 Teach For America (TFA) corps members causing further outrage with protest signs at School Board meetings declaring “Stack ‘Em Deep and Teach ‘Em Cheap” (13). CCSD then declared an impasse in its 2012-13 contract negotiations with the teachers union the following week (14). Despite the teachers union refusing concessions, the roughly 400 teachers who had received pink slips were re-hired (15).

Now, the CCEA teacher’s union has officially begun strategizing and mobilizing against these relentless attacks on public education and workers rights in Southern Nevada. On Thursday, November 8, nearly 200 teachers and some local education advocates attended an “Enough Is Enough!” event with representatives from the Chicago Teachers Union to learn about their recent struggle. Las Vegas area public educators are preparing to stand up and be heard during the 2013 Nevada Legislative Session and concluded the event with a commitment by those in attendance to take part in a strategic training on January 4-5, 2013 (16).

A week later, the Nevada State Education Association delivered an “Education Initiative” petition state-wide with over double the 72,000 required signatures that proposes implementing a 2 percent margin tax on businesses that earn more than $1 million annually to fund public schools (17). If the election departments approve the proposal, the initiative will be in the hands of Nevada lawmakers next year.

Already, public education advocates have been successful in scheduling a Nevada Education Awareness Day on February 25, 2013 at the state legislature in Carson City

The trip is about an 8-hour drive north of Vegas through the barren desert (18, 19). Teachers, students, parents, administrators and community supporters will use this opportunity to discuss education issues with their representatives to increase awareness of their concerns about public schools and ask for increased funding as a good investment in the future.

– by Jennifer J. Reed, MA
PhD Student, Department of Sociology
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

(1) Steuerle, Eugene, Robert D. Reischauer, Margaret Simms, Olivia Golden, Kim Rueben and Lisa Dubay. October 2011. “Today’s Children, Tomorrow’s America: Six Experts Face the Facts.” Urban Institute

(2) Mathis, William J. and Kevin G. Welner. October 2010. “Introduction: Assessing the Research Base for a Blueprint for Reform.” National Education Policy Center
(3) The Economist. July 7, 2012. “Education: A 20-Year Lesson.”
(4) Furgeson, Joshua, Brian Gill, Joshua Haimson, Alexandra Killewald, Moira McCullough, Ira Nichols-Barrer, Bing-ru Teh, Natalya Verbitsky-Savitz, Melissa Bowen, Allison Demeritt, Paul Hill and Robin Lake. January 2012. “Charter-School Management Organizations: Diverse Strategies and Diverse Student Impacts.” Mathematica Policy Research and Center on Reinventing Public Education
(5) Bach, Lisa Kim. April 25, 2011. “As Budgets Shrink, Clark County School Sizes Keep Growing.” Las Vegas Review-Journal
(6) Tyler, Tiffany G. and Sandra Owens. 2012. “High School Graduation and Dropout Rates in Nevada.” In The Social Health of Nevada: Leading Indicators and Quality of Life in the Silver State, edited by Dmitri N. Shalin. Las Vegas, NV: UNLV Center for Democratic Culture
(7) Yurkanin, Justin and John Locher. April 22, 2011. “Impact Nevada: A Look at CCSD’s English Language Learner Program.” Las Vegas Review-Journal
(8) KSNV MyNews3.  May 2, 2012. “Arbitrator Sides with Teachers Union; Layoffs Threatened.”
(9) Paden, Marcus. May 2, 2012. “A Big Consequence of Gov. Sandoval’s Education Cuts.”
(10) Takahashi, Paul. May 16, 2012. “School District to Lay Off 1,015 Teachers, Literacy Specialists.”
(11) Takahashi, Paul. June 11, 2012. “School District Sends Pink Slips to 419 Teachers.” Las Vegas Sun
(12) Allan, Krystal. June 11, 2012. “Teachers, Parents Keep Up Protests as Layoff Notices Issued.”
(13) Takahashi, Paul. June 22, 2012. “Despite Layoffs, Board OKs Hiring Fifty Teach For America Teachers; Action Irks Union President.”
(14) Clark County School District. June 26, 2012. “CCSD Declares Impasse in Contract Talk with Teachers’ Unions.”
(15) Takahashi, Paul. September 2, 2012. “Now This Is a Labor Dispute: Clark County School District Vs. Its Teachers.”
(16) Clark County Education Association. 2012. “Teachers Energized at Nov. 8 Event: Chicago Teachers Union Representatives Deliver Inspiring Message.”
(17) Boatman, Samantha. November 13, 2012. “Nevada State Education Association Delivering Signatures to Election Departments.”
(18) Nevada Legislature. “February 2013 Events Calendar.”
(19) Nevada Education Coalition. “About NEAD (Nevada Education Awareness Day).”

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  • Income Inequality Growing in Nevada and the Nation, Report Says | The Nevada View
    November 15, 2012, 12:29 pm

    […] we need to strengthen the education system.  As my good friend Jennifer Reed wrote about today, we have substantial problems with our education facilities, adequate number of teachers, and […]


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