By John Vellardita
Prior to the November Election results, CCEA made clear to every politician running for office that our expectations for the 2017 Legislative Session was one of accomplishment. Our support was conditioned on that commitment. We wanted to build upon the progress made in the 2015 Legislative Session regarding public education. Our members voted in the election. In fact, 92% of all teachers registered, voted in the November elections.
Two Agendas Cannot Coexist
After two weeks into the Session, it appears that polarization is setting in. The Democrats have made their agenda clear: Repeal the 2015 Republican legislation and pass a progressive legislative agenda. Neither of these agenda items are something the Republicans can work with. The Republicans in turn, have drawn a line in the sand to fight any repeal of legislation passed in 2015; moreover, they have moved to the right embracing a more conservative agenda. Again, nothing the Democrats can work with. Hence, we have two agendas that cannot coexist if we want accomplishment. Otherwise, we are left with gridlock.
The Governor’s Power
So where do things stand? The Governor, with his constitutional powers, has carefully issued measured statements to the party in power. We believe the Governor wants accomplishment. Nothing will get done without his approval. Any repeals will get a veto. We also believe that any legislation that is too extreme from the right or the left will never receive his support. The strength of the Governor is that he is a bridge builder not an ideologue but an implementer. And the Governor does have his agenda. We believe ‘choice’ shapes the debate.
The Quid Pro Quo
We should not underestimate what happened with the Special Session. A Session called before the elections. A quid pro quo was reached. To get the Democrats to support the room tax funding, Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) wouldn’t be on the agenda. To satisfy the Republicans, ESAs would be part of the 2017 Nevada Legislative Session. The Session has now opened and lines have been quickly drawn. In the end, don’t bet against the house. ‘Choice’ will be at the heart of any resolution.
The Great Equalizer
Choice is a powerful concept. For generations of working people in this country, public education has been the great equalizer that would provide the disadvantaged an opportunity to achieve the American Dream. Over the last few decades, the private sector has made a market presence in education. Its growth in the education market continues to see a rise in charter schools and vouchers (33 states have some form of a voucher). With the ascendency of the Trump administration, this trend will continue.
It’s About Equity
CCEA has a simple proposal. It’s equity. We have said that any discussion about ‘school choice’ in this Session has to start and end with adopting a Weighted Funding Formula so that there is finally adequate funding following all students in the classroom regardless of their school building or zip code. There are three key questions that need to be answered in developing the Weights. 1) The first question is what services can be created that will follow every student into every classroom to address the specific needs be it English Language Learners, children in poverty, special education or the gifted and talented. 2) What will this cost and what revenue is available? 3) What are the achievement outcomes and the accountability system to measure them?
Can This Be Accomplished?
We think we have no choice. We owe it to our children. Is there the leadership for this? We believe there is and neither party has a franchise on leadership. This will take shared leadership. We are confident that every legislator believes in making sure our public schools are teaching our kids and have the tools and resources to accomplish this goal. To get this done, it will take both parties working together, compromising, and ending with a Legislative Session of accomplishment.