Tag Archives: Nevada education

Friday Didjah Know?

Didja Hear Maybe “I Regret” wasn’t enough?MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren announced on Monday that, despite being a lifelong Republican, he is backing Democrat Hillary Clinton for president. Murren has never publicly endorsed a candidate before but said that he felt he needed to lend his voice to “some of the bigger issues” this election cycle after an “accumulation of vitriol” from Trump.” Full article at the Las Vegas Sun.

Those Naked Truth Statues are products of a Las Vegas artist.  Well done sir! And, a hand clap to the now famous line from the NYC Parks Department: “NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small,” parks spokesman Sam Biederman joked.”

The Nevada Board of Examiners has approved another $125,000 to an outside law firm (Bancroft Associates – Paul Clement) to defend the public school fund gutting voucher education program. The firm has already gotten $420,000 from Nevada and the recent increase will mean a $545,000 total payout. [LVSun]  This would be the same Paul Clement whose firm has been tapped by North Carolina Republican leadership to appeal the NC Voter ID law targeting African Americans.

Former solicitor general during the Bush administration, and current professor at Georgetown Law School, Clement has spent much of the Obama administration working with conservatives on several prominent Supreme Court cases, including arguing in favor of overturning the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), fighting to preserve the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and helping Arizona defend its controversial immigration law. Clement won the Hobby Lobby case at the Supreme Court for religious conservatives. [TNCRM]

The Smoking Gun Memo from North Carolina Republicans isn’t going to make Clement’s task any easier.

Yes, Donald Trump is now running adsa new Dog Whistle to the Far Right. Did we expect anything else?  Thus much for the pivot, unless by “pivot” means a 360 degree turn. By the way, the ad offers up an Old Hoary GOP line about undocumented immigrants soaking up Social Security Benefits – they don’t. This talking point has been floating around since at least the 2006 mid term elections.  Ten years of the same lie is enough! [factcheck]

An Hispanic couple’s truck was vandalized in northwest Reno (can you guess what happened?) “A Hispanic couple’s truck was vandalized Wednesday night in Northwest Reno with graffiti including Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s name, in what one of the victims said was a hate crime.”

“Esmeralda Estrada, 31, of Reno, said the truck, which is only about two months old, was fine when she and her husband went to sleep around 10 p.m. Wednesday. When they woke up Thursday, it was keyed several times, including the word “Trump” scratched into the side. The tailgate was also spray-painted with “VOTE TRUMP.” [RGJ]

The Estrada’s are the only Hispanic couple in the neighborhood.

Trump and Entourage arrived in Baton Rouge, LA and was met by GOP office holders. They met with volunteers at a church which had been cooking meals for displaced persons.  [AP] The GOP has slammed the President for not appearing, however “Louisiana’s Democratic governor defended the administration’s response Thursday, saying he has spoken daily with the White House and would prefer Obama hold off on visiting because such stops pull local police and first responders into providing security.” [AP]  Nothing like barging in?

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Filed under education, Edwards, nevada education, Nevada politics, Politics, presidential race, racism, Republicans, Vote Suppression

Grab the Money and Go: Nevada School Funding Case Scheduled

Turkey

It’s a turkey, no matter how one looks at it – the proposal for parents to be able to grab public money for “private” education in the state of Nevada and run off to do heaven only knows what with it.  And, now the case comes to the courts.  [LVRJ]

“The law passed by the Republican-controlled 2015 Legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval allows parents to set up education savings accounts to receive a portion of state per-pupil funding and use the money, about $5,100 annually, to send their children to private school or pay for other educational options. The program, administered by the state treasurer’s office, has received more than 6,000 applications.

A group of parents sued in Carson City, arguing it will illegally divert money from public schools. A Carson City judge in January agreed and issued an injunction.

The ACLU challenged the law on separate grounds, claiming it violates a constitutional prohibition against using money for sectarian purposes. A Clark County judge last month rejected those arguments and upheld the law.” [LVRJ]

I’m not at all sure why the ACLU case didn’t have a better outcome, because the Nevada Constitution is very clear about prohibiting public funds for sectarian use.   Additionally, I’m a bit fogged about why the ultra-conservatives in Nevada would want to allow funds for potentially radical religious instruction of any stripe.  There’s a question here – would these same people be so supportive if the private school receiving the money were, say, a madrasah?

And, it’s notable that we aren’t talking about peanuts here.  If 6,000 families each grab $5,100 every year from taxpayer funds for private schooling, then we’re speaking of some $30,600,000, or $61,200,000 for the biennium.

If  the idea is to bankrupt public education and then privatize the remnants, this is a perfect formula.  Complain that the public schools are not performing to some artificially established standard, then promote the creation of private schools, followed hard by the transfer of funds away from public education into those private “reformers,” and perpetuate the cycle of under-funded public  schools trying to compete with corporation sponsored private ones.  There’s no way for the public schools to win, and that’s precisely what the privatizers have in mind.

Stay tuned, the Nevada Supreme Court will hear the case on July 29, 2016.

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Filed under education, nevada education, Nevada judiciary, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, privatization, profiteering

Kids and Cattle: Washoe County School Bond Issue

cattle grazing The concept of an AUM is well understood in northern Nevada, that’s the Animal Unit Month, or the amount of forage needed for one cow and calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for one month. The current grazing fee for 2016 is $2.11 per AUM.  Further, not all grazing land is created equal. First class produces enough feed on 4 acres or less for one grown cow. Second class during an average year produces enough feed on 4 to 6 acres for a grown cow. Third class during an average year will sustain a grown cow on 6 to 12 acres, and fourth class during an average  year produces enough feed on 12 acres or more for one grown cow (1/12 or less animal units per month.) [AgBulletin pdf]  The point here is that good grazing land sustains one animal/month on four acres.  Would that we were this concerned about our children.

School crowding The Washoe County School District announced that there are several schools in the Reno/Sparks area which are on pace to require double sessions and year round scheduling to meet their demands.  There are eight schools hovering near the “trigger.”

“Tuesday’s trigger, detailed in Regulation 6111, puts middle and high schools on double sessions once they exceed campus capacity by 20 percent. Portable classrooms are not counted in these campus capacities.

No schools meet the trigger, yet. But four middle schools and four high schools are projected to get there over the next five years. All these schools are already over capacity or near it.”  [RGJ]

squeeze chute Not that children and cattle are analogous, but we do recognize that cattle need at least a minimum amount of space for grazing while the file photo shot from the Reno Gazette Journal above seems to indicate that a few squeeze chutes might be handy for funneling the little calves into their classrooms.  Might be handy? We could vaccinate them while they’re in the chutes? Check their vital signs? Wash and brush them if necessary? Check for medical and dental problems?

Back to the serious side for the moment – The Washoe County School District is asking voters to support a bond issue in the next election for capital improvements and renovations.  

“The committee based its requested increase on tax revenue projections, which would allow the district to issue $781 million in bonds over the next decade for school renovations and new campuses. District officials have said $781 million is what they need to meet demands of student enrollment forecasts. The district would pay off the bonds over 20 years using proceeds of the sales tax increase.” [RGJ]

There are always excuses for a “no vote.”  Some people would vote “no” on any proposal if it requires a penny more in sales or property taxes.   This, in spite of the fact that northern Nevada has one of the lowest tax burdens in the entire country:

“As compared to other major cities around the country, Reno property tax rates are some of the lowest in the United States at an effective rate of about a dollar per $100 of assessed value. While supporting an especially high sales tax rate of 7.75%, much of that bite is ameliorated by the fact that Nevada only taxes 37.4% of its goods at sale. Further savings are found in a state tax code that allows for the deductions of state and local sales tax payments.” [movoto]

Those facts won’t prevent some people from loudly complaining, “They’re Taxed Enough Already.”  Then, there’s the always provocative and ever annoying, “Why should I pay for someone else’s kids?”   Gee, I don’t know, perhaps it’s because we don’t want to be known as the Land That Education Forgot, populated with the ignorant and ill-educated.  Or, the antagonizing, “The Schools waste money on _____________.” Fill in that blank with, say, “administration,” or “football fields,” or any other convenient complaint.

Another obstacle is the “alternative” suggestions popping up before election day.  “Why don’t we have year round schools?” Or, “Why don’t we do double sessions and year round schedules?”  The only one I haven’t heard yet is for about $1700 a school could install a squeeze chute to handle the crowding in the hallways —

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Filed under education, nevada education

100 Days, ESAs and Sectarian Education in Nevada

Sectarianism There was this announcement from the State Treasurer’s Office this past August regarding the eligibility of homeschooled students to qualify for the school voucher (ESA).

“The Treasurer’s Office has been notified by the Nevada Department of Education that pursuant to NRS 388.850, a private school or “home school” student may not participate in a program of distance education (online class) to satisfy the 100 school day requirement. Nevada Revised Statute 388.850 prevents a private school or “home school” student from enrolling in a program of distance education (online class). However, a private school or “home school” student may qualify for an ESA by taking one or more classes in a public or charter school, pursuant to NRS 386.580(5) and 392.070(3).” [NPRI]

Thus, a child can be enrolled in a public or state chartered school for 100 days, then be eligible for a voucher to pay for homeschooling curricula.  And, here we run into some problems – or, perhaps one big problem. Sectarian classroom materials.

Sectarianism is mentioned seven times in the Nevada Constitution. The first reference comes in Article II, and the fundamentals are clear as a bell.   “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year, and any school district which shall allow instruction of a sectarian character therein may be deprived of its proportion of the interest of the public school fund during such neglect or infraction, and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.”

[Amended in 1938. Proposed and passed by the 1935 legislature; agreed to and passed by the 1937 legislature; and approved and ratified by the people at the 1938 general election. See: Statutes of Nevada 1935, p. 440; Statutes of Nevada 1937, p. 550.]

In  Section 9:  “Sectarian instruction prohibited in common schools and university.  No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.”

And Section 10: “No public money to be used for sectarian purposes.  No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”

Home Sweet Home

In the home-school proponent perspective, a child who enrolls in 100 days of online (homeschool/distance) education should be eligible for ESA grants.  However, what distance learning or home-school curricula matters.  Thus, we’d have to ask if an ESA grant may be used to pay for sectarian home-school curricula and support materials?   If we look to Article II, sections 9 and 10, the answer appears to be a resounding NO.

The parent of a  child who is to be home-schooled must submit an “educational plan” for the child in order to be exempt from state mandatory attendance laws.  And:

“No regulation or policy of the State Board, any school district or any other governmental entity may infringe upon the right of a parent to educate his child based on religious preference unless it is:

  1. Essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and
  2. The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” [NHSN]

Okay, a parent may choose to home-school a child, using a religious curriculum, without discrimination.  The question becomes: Can the state funds be used to pay for it?

So far the parent may choose any curriculum – the district cannot discriminate based on religious affiliation – and who pays for the Stuff?

Stuff from Abeka K-12? Their 8th grade science book explains:

“From earthquakes and volcanoes to clouds and galaxies, show your child the features of God’s Creation here on earth as well as the Great Beyond with Science: Earth and Space! This textbook guides your child through a study of geology, oceanography, meteorology, astronomy, and environmental science. A thorough study of rocks, soil, and fossils will give your child ample proofs that this earth was created by God and not evolutionary processes.”

In brief, the last time I looked such an explanation was described as “creationism,” and “creationism” isn’t science, it’s theology.  Perhaps some materials from Bob Jones University Press?  Right off the bat the website tells us, “We want students to think, so we use inductive teaching, discovery activities, and probing discussion questions to develop thinking skills.”   Let’s step back a moment, there’s inductive and deductive reasoning; and, inductive reasoning makes broad generalizations from specific observations.  By contrast deductive reasoning, the basis for most science, proposes an hypothesis and then tests observations. [LiveSci] Inductive reasoning is used in the crafting of theories and hypotheses, after which deductive reasoning is appropriate for testing those theories.  So, if we’re going to start and stop with inductive instruction we won’t get to the part where the evidence is truly tested?  However, there’s more, as the Bob Jones University curriculum describes its Biblically based instructional mission:

“The Bible teaches that in the Fall, human cognition and affection became broken. Verses like Jeremiah 17:9 and I Corinthians 2:14 teach that the fallen human mind cannot understand the world the way it was meant to be understood. Proverbs 1:7 teaches that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Here we learn that proper affection (“fear”) for God is the key to proper cognition (“knowledge”) regarding His world.”  […]

Good biblical integration has not happened until the student learns how the Bible is relevant to the subject at hand. This involves three levels of effort.

“In Level 1 biblical integration, the Bible is referenced while the subject is being taught, using biblical analogies or examples. In Level 2, the teacher shows the student how the Bible should guide him as he applies the academic discipline to real-life situations. The final level focuses on rebuilding the academics for the glory of God. Remembering the fallenness of the human mind, the teacher should call into question the secular assumptions of each subject and then encourage the student to rebuild the discipline from biblical presuppositions. The work of Christian education is the work of redeeming what has fallen.  We study all aspects of human culture because we see in that study the potential for redemption. As we view the academics through the lens of Scripture, we learn how we may be used to redeem those disciplines back to God.” [BJUpress]

If this isn’t sectarian, then I’m really not sure what would be.  To cut this bit short before it becomes a litany of examples of sectarian based instruction readily available from all manner of sources, and ranging widely in terms of quality, it’s fair to ask if a home-schooling parent should be remunerated for materials and supplies which teach creationism and centralize “redemption” as a focus of instruction?

Of course, there’s the other side of the issue – there are other religions which provide instructional materials – the Islamic Bookstore devotes a page to materials geared for young people, from pre-school to grade six.  One quick Google and you can find support groups for humanist and atheist home-schooling parents.  Seriously pagan or Wiccan? There’s a page for that too.

Meanwhile back at the Establishment Clause

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

Somewhat lost in all the recent rhetoric about “religious Freedom,” are the two pieces related to “religious liberty” incorporated in the First Amendment. Fundamental to understanding the first part, or the Establishment Clause, is the nature of the word “respecting:”

“The first of the First Amendment’s two religion clauses reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … .” Note that the clause is absolute. It allows no law. It is also noteworthy that the clause forbids more than the establishment of religion by the government. It forbids even laws respecting an establishment of religion. The establishment clause sets up a line of demarcation between the functions and operations of the institutions of religion and government in our society. It does so because the framers of the First Amendment recognized that when the roles of the government and religion are intertwined, the result too often has been bloodshed or oppression.”  [1st AmdCent]

Witness: the wars associated with the Reformation – the German Peasants’ War (1524-1525); the battle of Kappel (Switzerland 1531); the Schmalkaldic War (Holy Roman Empire 1546-1547); and then we move on to the Eighty Years War in the Low Countries (1568-1648), the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) and the Thirty Years War (Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Bohemia, France, Denmark, Sweden (1618-1648).    Not that the British Isles escaped the religiously based slaughter – there was the Scottish Reformation and attendant civil wars; and, the wars probably best recalled by the founders of this nation – the English Civil War (1642-1651).  The carnage is difficult to assess for the English Civil Wars – historical records count 84,830 dead as a result of the conflicts, other estimates range as high as 190,000 dead out of a total population of about 5 million people.

One doesn’t have to go too far back to be reminded of the effects of sectarianism in Northern Ireland, or do much more than turn on a television news broadcast of the latest atrocities perpetrated by Sunnis on Shias or Shias on Sunnis.

Little wonder the founders inserted the Establishment Clause.  And the State of Nevada acquiesced to this in Article I:

“All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair[,] subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States.” (emphasis added)

Loud rhetoric, and even imprecations, from the radical religious right don’t change the overall framework – we do have an Establishment Clause, it was enacted with a mind to historical precedent and human nature, and the state of Nevada adopted it in its own Constitution.

What Does This Mean At the Bookstore?

According to the provisions of SB 302, money from the ESA may be spent to pay for:

Textbooks required for a child that who enrolls in a school that is a participating entity; … Textbooks required for the child at an eligible institution that is a participating entity or to receive instruction  from any other participating entity; … Purchasing a curriculum or any supplemental materials required to administer the curriculum.

A science text book that teaches “Creationism?” A “Biblically-Centered” curriculum?  Supplemental materials which amplify and explain doctrines such as: “When a child is born it is a cause for much happiness and celebration.  In Islam there is no preference for either a male or female child.  Quran says that both the male and the female were created from a single person (Adam) and that are equal except in terms of piety and righteousness.” [IslRel] And, that the Prophet categorically stated female children are a blessing and that raising them to be righteous believers is a source of great reward.  [IslRel]  Materials for Torah study?  Have we missed the Hindi? The Sikhs? The Jains? The Buddhists? The spirituality of Native Americans? …

If the state allows remuneration for the purchase of some sectarian materials and curricula then it must do it for all?  In light of the Establishment Clause, the question is reversed – Is there any condition in which the state is allowed to subsidize sectarian education? And, the answer is … NO.

To say that the state may not discriminate against those whose educational plans are religiously based is one thing, to say that the state must pay for the materials to implement religiously based education is quite another. It’s certainly going to take more than 100 days to get this mess sorted.

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Filed under education, nevada education, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, religion, schools

Washington Ruling and Nevada’s School Voucher Cases

School Corridor Lockers No sooner do I post a piece on whether some forms of private education are prohibited by Nevada’s Constitution from receiving public funds than a ruling from the Washington Supreme Court strikes down funding for some charter schools in that state. [NewsTrib]

“In a 6-3 ruling issued late Friday afternoon, the high court said that the privately operated, publicly funded charter schools do not qualify as common schools under Washington’s Constitution and thus cannot receive public funding.” [NewsTrib]

Don’t be deceived by headlines declaring “court strikes down charter schools,” the ruling itself is far narrower.

“In the lead opinion, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen said the case wasn’t about the merits of charter schools, simply whether they were eligible for public funds. Citing state Supreme Court precedent from 1909, she said they are not eligible because they are not under the control of local voters. Washington charters are run by private nonprofit organizations that appoint their own boards. Most, including Tacoma’s charters, are also under the oversight of the appointed Washington State Charter School Commission.” [NewsTrib]  (emphasis added)

And, this was the point addressed in yesterday’s post.  The crux of the Washington matter was RCW 28A.150.010:

“Public schools means the common schools as referred to in Article IX of the state Constitution, including charter schools established under chapter 28A.710 RCW, and those schools and institutions of learning having a curriculum below the college or university level as now or may be established by law and maintained at public expense.”

And Washington, also, has a definition of a “common school.”

“Common schools” means schools maintained at public expense in each school district and carrying on a program from kindergarten through the twelfth grade or any part thereof including vocational educational courses otherwise permitted by law.

[1969 ex.s. c 223 § 28A.01.060. Prior: 1909 c 97 p 261 § 1, part; RRS § 4680, part; prior: 1897 c 118 § 64, part; 1890 p 371 § 44, part. Formerly RCW 28A.01.060, 28.58.190, part, 28.01.060.]

These provisions are similar to those in NRS 388.020.   We should pay particular attention to the portion of the Washington decision which clarified the definition of a Common School:

“…a common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent. “ [LWV v. Washington pdf]

The central point in the Washington decision is that because the charter schools are governed by non-elected boards and managers they are not within the scope of the Washington Constitution’s mandates on school funding.  The context is important because Article IX of the Washington Constitutions is explicit:

“The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.”

Nevada’s Constitution is not so explicit in its language. [NVConst Article XI]  This raises questions about the cases filed against the school voucher law (ESA’s) filed in Nevada.  (1) In order to be categorized as a “common school” must an entity be ‘common to all children of the proper age and capacity, free, subject to district control?’   Does the classification of a charter operation as a Local Educational Agency qualify a charter corporation to be a recipient of funds from the State?

(2) Can the state confer LEA status to a private corporation, given the standard definition of an LEA?

“The term “local educational agency” means a public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State for either administrative control or direction of, or to perform a service function for, public elementary schools or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a State, or of or for a combination of school districts or counties that is recognized in a State as an administrative agency for its public elementary schools or secondary schools.” [Cornell.Law.Edu]

The federal Department of Education defines a Local Educational Agency as:

“As defined in ESEA, a public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State for either administrative control or direction of, or to perform a service function for, public elementary schools or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a State, or for a combination of school districts or counties that is recognized in a State as an administrative agency for its public elementary schools or secondary schools.”

Both definitions of a Local Educational Agency emphasize that an LEA must be a governed by a PUBLIC board or PUBLIC authority.  So, it may follow that in order to be considered part of the uniform system of common schools, a local school or local educational agency must be governed by those who are elected by the public.  Where the Nevada Constitution may be a bit fuzzy on the subject (except for the contents of the Permanent School Fund), federal standards for the categorization of a Local Educational Agency are more specific.

Nevada’s work-around appears to be to have the State Public Charter School Authority (1) ostensibly is subordinate to the State Board of Education (with elected members), and (2) to have created a “school district” composed of all the charter schools. [BalPed]  However, the authority to approve charter school applications is given to the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority, in NRS 386.509.  

Now, the situation is removed a step from the voters.  The members of the NSPCSA are:  Two members appointed by the Governor, Two members appointed by the Majority Leader of the Senate, Two members appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, and one member representing the Charter School Association of Nevada (or successor organization.)  [NRS 386.5095]   Not to put too fine a point to it, but the organization determining the membership of the 3rd largest school district in the state of Nevada is composed entirely of appointed members.   This doesn’t seem to conform to the standard, or the federal, definition of a Local Educational Agency.  The legislature has declared the charters to be an LEA, [NRS 385.513] however, saying so doesn’t necessarily make it a constitutional practice.  So, there’s the question: Has the State of Nevada erred in declaring its “charter district” an LEA given it is not governed by elected members?

Further Into The Weeds

Another question raised by the enactment of the ESA school voucher program is that of “delegated authority” that is,  the authority of a board to delegate its authority to some other entity.  Did the State err in deciding that a separate authority could approve or disapprove of charters to operate public schools in this state?

This question has been raised before, in regard to the State Board of Regents (University System), in January 1968.  At the time the state was considering the establishment of vo-tech schools in the state which would not be subject to the direct jurisdiction of the Board of Regents.  The Attorney General was asked for an official opinion, and the response was:

“In our present analysis, however, the lines of demarcation from secondary education to university level are clear. If college level courses are taught, the school is functioning on a university level and, if tax supported, should be established and controlled by the Board of Regents through the University facilities. The faculty should be hired and paid through the Board of Regents. The institution should be financed by legislative appropriation to the Board for that purpose.”

In short, if there were to be community colleges the legislature could not unilaterally pull them out of the domain of the elected representatives who govern public higher education.  We might argue, by inference, that if courses are taught, and a school is functioning, in the manner of a “common school” then it should be under the control of the local school district.  And, thus we return back to the question of whether or not the legislature erred in establishing a “district” without boundaries, and without direct public control?

Then there is the matter of assigning responsibility for public education funds, and there has been a question regarding this topic.  Dial the Way-Back Machine to 1961, and the consideration of who would be responsible for the handling of federal funds to local school districts.  Back in the day, there were questions about how funds for special educational services would be accounted for; the AG’s opinion was:

“Regulations prescribing conditions under which funds, commodities or services from federal agencies may be accepted for use by public schools”) designates and authorizes the State Board of Education to regulate the execution of all state contracts and agreements for funds, services, commodities or equipment which may be provided by agencies of the Federal Government. The State Plan submitted by the State Education Department to qualify the State of Nevada for the federal funds here involved provided for responsibility and accountability of the State Education Department, on the state level, for proper use and expenditure of any federal funds which might be made available and allocated to the State of Nevada.”

Short version:  The State Board of Education was responsible for the “proper use and expenditure” of all funding from the Federal Government, and could establish rules for the allocation of county school district funds, i.e. “all moneys received from the federal government and any other receipts, including gifts, for the operation and maintenance of the public schools in the county school district.”

Now we have a nice hash developing.   If we accept the proposition that all public school funding is subject to the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education, then how does one justify the administration of school funds by the Office of the state Treasurer?

“SB 302 provides a means for Nevada Parents with children enrolled in a public/charter school to choose a different option to meet their educational needs. A parent who wishes to choose something other than a public school simply can apply for an Education Savings Account and a percentage of what the state funds for their child’s public education will be deposited into an account for that child. The funds can then be used for education related expenses at approved participating entities. Nevada’s ESA program is being administered by the State Treasurer’s Office (STO), who ultimately will be responsible for establishing the regulations, timelines, and program processes.”

Again, if it is constitutional to state that the money received from all sources comes under the province of the State Board of Education how is it constitutionally justified that a portion of those funds may be diverted into individual accounts, administered by an agency other than the elected Board of Education?

The situation in terms of the administration and financing of charter schools in Nevada isn’t quite as black/white as the situation and legal context in Washington, but several pertinent questions are in order.

  • Can a local educational agency be one which does not have elected leadership?
  • Are schools designated as “common” but under the direct administration of those not elected by the public be part of a “uniform system?”
  • Can the state create an “artificial district” not subject to the direct control of elected officials?
  • Can state funds under the oversight of the elected State Board of Education be diverted, and the administration be delegated to, another state agency?
  • If federal funds for public education coming to the several district must be administered by the state Department of Education, then must districts establish fully separate accounts so that these funds may not be diverted and their administration delegated?

These and other questions could keep Nevada courts busy for months? Years? Decades?

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And then there were two: 2nd Lawsuit filed against Nevada’s school voucher law

School Corridor Lockers There are now two lawsuits filed against the “Education Savings Account” law enacted by the last session of Nevada’s Assembled Wisdom.  The first came late last month from the ACLU, and now a second comes from parents who are disturbed that the law takes revenue collected for public education and diverts it to private and religious schools.

“The lawsuit filed Wednesday claims ESAs violate the state constitution by diverting funds “exclusively” meant for public schools to private schools and other private expenses. It also argues the ESA bill undercuts funding for public schools to a less-than-sufficient level and does not mandate private schools to follow the same non-discrimination and accountability rules that state law requires of public schools.

The lawsuit includes a request for a judge to permanently block the Nevada treasurer’s office from implementing the ESA program, according to a news release.”  [LVRJ]

The notion that private is always better than public seems to undergird the assumptions of the proponents of public support for private education.  There are several streams that converge into this ideological river, some stronger than others.  Some relevant to the issues at hand, and others less so. The arguments are worth exploring.

Diversion

Proponents of the measure argue that since it’s the parents who make the funding request from the State Treasurer’s office, they have every right to make the diversion.  There’s a slippery slope question herein: Does an individual have the right to request the diversion of public funds for the benefit of a private enterprise?

For the sake of the general argument, let’s assume that we are not talking about schools in particular, but any state or local function.  A hypothetical might be illustrative, if not analogously probative – there is a reservoir stocked with fish by the Nevada Department of Wildlife, subsidized from about $231 million is expended in total on “fisheries management.” [NDW pdf] The sale of Trout Stamps brings in about $650,000 annually. [NDW pdf]  Approximately 1% of Nevada’s Department of Wildlife budget comes from the General Fund, and 2% from other state sources.  86% of the budget comes from wildlife fees and grants. Those fees include fishing licenses. A fishing license costs $13, and the Trout Stamp adds another $10 to the total.   Now, imagine an enterprise in close proximity to our hypothetical reservoir which charges admissions and fees to fish in the waters of its reservoir; no state license or special stamps required.

May a individual who doesn’t want to fish in public waters get $23 returned to a “fishing savings account” because he or she doesn’t want to fish in the public reservoir, and prefers to engage in that recreational activity on private lands, under private control?  Taxes and fees are combined to form the revenue base of the Department of Wildlife, so what is the justification for diverting funds from the Department of Wildlife back to those who do not wish to utilize its services?

We might apply the same analogy to other services like local libraries?  If a subscription library were to be established could local residents request a voucher for funds to subsidize their fees to the subscription library?  Could local residents request vouchers to reduce the burden for their payments to use private parks and pools?  May a local resident demand a voucher from a county government which collects property taxes, a portion of which are allocated to the operation of a hospital, if the resident chooses not to use the services of that local hospital?  Might a resident who pays for private security request a voucher for a “protection savings account” to subsidize his or her fees to the private security firm from taxes collected to finance the local law enforcement agencies?

There’s a tricky precedent here in the form of the “individual choice” argument.  The implications go far beyond the funding of private or parochial education, and range from the relatively minor (such as our fishing example) to the more serious (such as the public subsidies for public health or public safety services.)  Extrapolating this precedent could yield a chaotic system in which each individual is only obligated to pay for the “things” he or she personally wants. 

The Grass Is Greener

The “School Choice” argument has been framed as one of allowing parents to choose between the public and private system, with the private or charter schools held to be superior.  This argument branches out into several other strands.  In strand one, the question arises: Should public funds be used for the inculcation of religious ideals and dogma?

Article II of the Nevada Constitution is clear on this subject. “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year, and any school district which shall allow instruction of a sectarian character therein may be deprived of its proportion of the interest of the public school fund during such neglect or infraction, and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.”  Art II, Section 2 (emphasis added)

Sections 9 and 10 are equally exclusive: “No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.” And, “No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”

When the topic comes up three times in one brief segment of the State Constitution, we have to believe that those who crafted the document were serious about the subject.   So, when Bishop Gorman High School schedules Mass during the school day, would this violate the funding proscriptions in Article II of the State Constitution?  The answer seems clear in Section Ten. NO public funds of any kind or character whatever….”  Would this proscription also apply to the Southern Baptist Academy (K-12) online home schooling curricula?  Most likely.

Strand Two assumes parents want to make the best choices for their children, while the state has an obligation to create a “uniform system of common schools.” And at this point the categorization gets complicated.  There are parochial schools which are required to accept the children of any member of the parish.  There are also parochial schools, such as Bishop Manogue in Reno, NV which offer applications including recommendations from at least two teachers (math and English), and high school placement test results.  We should probably guess that those scoring higher will swim faster in the decision pools.  The Meadows is a non-sectarian school in Las Vegas, and its exclusivity is emphasized by the $15,500 to $24,025 tuition fees.  Neither exclusive (as opposed to totally inclusive) schools such as Bishop Manogue or The Meadows quite constitutes a “common” (as in totally inclusive) school.  Now, does a voucher – in the form of an ESA – violate the provisions of the State Constitution that revenue collected for educational purposes be used for schools which are not part of a “uniform system of common schools ” and really don’t intend to be?

Strand Three raises other categorical questions, such as when are other educational alternatives to be considered part of a “uniform system of common schools?”   For example, there are three forms of charter schools in Nevada depending on their sponsorship: District, University/College, and those approved by the State Public Charter School Authority.  The latter category gets us into some Alphabet Soup.  A private charter hires an ESP (Educational Service Provider) to handle day to day operations, and this management comes in two forms, the CMO and the EMO.  (Charter Management Organization, and Educational Management Organization) The EMO’s are more often those corporations which can afford to purchase school facilities.  Once the Alphabet Soup is sorted, it’s easier to examine the program management to see if it fits the template of a school’s definition of an institution fitting into a framework of “a uniform system of common schools.”

The extensive provisions of NRS 386 on Charter Schools should give some assurance of public accountability. There is an annual report from the Sponsor  NRS 386.610: For each charter school that it sponsors with a written charter, an evaluation of the progress of each such charter school in achieving the educational goals and objectives of the written charter. And, For each charter school that it sponsors with a charter contract, a summary evaluating the academic, financial and organizational performance of the charter school, as measured by the performance indicators, measures and metrics set forth in the performance framework for the charter school.  Three consecutive years of underperformance and determined by the CMO/EMO evaluation standards, and they’re out.

Not surprisingly, most of the Nevada charter schools are located in the Las Vegas suburban area.  Nor is it any great surprise that the ethnicity of 61.61% of the state charters is White, as compared to 35.98% statewide, and while the composition of public schools is about 40.56% Hispanic, the state charters enroll only 16.11% of that student population subset. [NVReport Card]  Surely, schools part of a “uniform system of common schools” would have enrollment statistics which better mirror those of the public schools? 

Thus, the question: If a school, while adhering to the testing regime of the State, isn’t representative of the enrollment of the “common schools” using even the most broad statewide description, does it qualify for public funding for its operations?  And, may a school, with the permission of the state, expend public funds if it fails to offer the same programs for special students as are required in the public schools?  In other words, do we have one system of common schools or two?

Who’s Choosing?

Heaven forbid I’m bashing private schooling – I’m one of its products.  However, I am also one who believes that private schooling is a choice, a choice made by parents who don’t want to avail themselves of the choice to send the kids to the public school.  Taxes are paid into state and local coffers for the maintenance of “a uniform system of common schools,” so that every other youngster in town who isn’t a parish member or having the luck to be born to parents who can afford private education,  isn’t denied  schooling.   The passage of the ESA legislation simply means I don’t have the choice NOT to pay for someone else’s choice to attend a private school.

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Testing Turmoil: Nevada and the Misuse of Standardized Testing

test pencil “The four corporations that dominate the U.S. standardized testing market spend millions of dollars lobbying state and federal officials — as well as sometimes hiring them — to persuade them to favor policies that include mandated student assessments, helping to fuel a nearly $2 billion annual testing business, a new analysis shows.” [WaPo March 30, 2015]

“Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill—  collectively spent more than $20 million lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2014.” [WaPo March 30, 2015]

Standardized testing has its uses.  Standardized testing is also a very remunerative business.  And, because standardized testing is a very lucrative business it’s expensive for local schools.  Are we getting what we’re paying for?

The initial answer to that question appears to be – probably not:

“Nevada will receive a $1.3 million settlement from the testing company partly responsible for the debacle that resulted in only a third of students completing their standardized exams this spring.

The New Hampshire-based company Measured Progress has agreed to refund 30 percent of the state’s $2.7 million contract, returning nearly $790,000, according to an announcement by the Nevada Attorney General’s Office on Monday. In addition, the company will provide $510,000 worth of assessments aligned to Nevada’s new science standards in middle school.” [RGJ] (August 24, 2015)

So, Measured Progress is out, one of the Big 4, CTB/McGraw-Hill is in, and Nevada is still using the services of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Testing last Spring was a lovely hot mess.  However, that really shouldn’t be the end of the discussion.  Again, we need to ask: Are we getting what we’re paying for?

That depends on whether or not the people making the decisions about the administration of standardized tests, and those making the decisions about the use of information derived from the standardized tests are  using the tests in rational ways.  First, let’s look at what standardized tests are created to do:

“The folks who create standardized achievement tests are terrifically talented. What they are trying to do is to create assessment tools that permit someone to make a valid inference about the knowledge and/or skills that a given student possesses in a particular content area. More precisely, that inference is to be norm-referenced so that a student’s relative knowledge and/or skills can be compared with those possessed by a national sample of students of the same age or grade level.”  [ASCD]

What is being described in the paragraph is a “norm referenced” test, in which the student is measured against a hypothetical “average” student. A criterion referenced test measures the student’s performance against a set of pre-determined criteria, or learning standards.  If we are speaking about being able to assess whether a youngster has met the achievement standards in 4th grade arithmetic then a criterion referenced test would obviously be the best choice. [FTO]

Let’s look at the Nevada High School Proficiency test for a moment, specifically at the reading portion.  (pdf) Passages are printed out for the student to read, and then three to six questions, in multiple choice format, are allocated to each section.  In the first practice sample, the very first question seeks to determine if the reader can identify “tone” in writing.

  However, in order to arrive at the correct answer the reader must also know the definition of “sarcasm,” “distorted descriptions,” “vivid word choice,” “sophisticated sentences,” “figurative language,” and “humorous comparisons.”   The correct answer is “D,” the author intending his figurative language and humorous comparisons to create an amused tone. Amused?  Doesn’t that depend on one’s sense of humor?  The paragraph begins with the “studio was a mess,” and end with “The place was a dump.”  For the humor-challenged among us item C “sophisticated sentences” (with dashes and semi-colons) and “ornate language” could be a “superior tone.” Thus, in order to get this item correctly our hypothetical student has to have a vocabulary background sufficient to understand the alternatives, and has to have a sense of humor.  And herein we run into the Multiple Choice Question Wall.

A criterion referenced test, no matter how sophisticated, no matter how carefully designed, and precisely structured, has to be completed in a reasonable amount of time.  The sample test includes two items related to “tone” and “mood.”   In other words, there are essentially two items on the high stakes test which are designed to determine if the reader can identify these characteristics of writing, and one of them may partially depend on whether or not the reader has a normally developed sense of humor, or maybe any sense of humor at all?   However, it would be impossible to publish a test that gives a precise determination of whether the reader can identify “tone,” or “mood,” without making the test unrealistically long.  The following is one of the best summations of that Multiple Choice Question Wall issue:

“Given the size of the content domains to be represented and the limited number of items that the test developers have at their disposal, standardized achievement tests are really quite remarkable. They do what they are supposed to do. But standardized achievement tests should not be used to evaluate the quality of education. That’s not what they are supposed to do.” [ASCD]

How long might an examination have to be in order to fully and precisely determine whether or not a Nevada high school senior had adequately mastered the reading and language arts standards currently adopted? (pdf)

Then there’s the matter of the “cut off” score.  Whether the bottom line is a good old fashioned one – no, you don’t get a driver’s license without answering  80% of the questions correctly; or, whether there’s a fancy new way to derive “passing” scores like the Nevada Department of Education’s “compensatory” system [NDE ppt update 4/15 #5] – a bottom line is still a bottom line.  Once again we run headlong into a structural issue which informs how we should, or should not, be using the results.

What if we gave a test and everyone passed it?  In an ideal world, wouldn’t every student in every class in the entire state pass a proficiency test (or end of course exam) based on carefully crafted criteria?

Is there such a thing as “too many test takers passing” an examination?  One of the classic issues with norm-referenced tests is that most of the questions are of the middling variety, i.e. not too hard and not too soft.  There’s no way to differentiate among students without Score Variance.  We can say an individual “exceeds” the standards, “meets” the standards, or “fails to meet the minimal standards,” and we’re still talking in Goldilocks and the Bears terms – it’s too cold, too hot, or just right.

Human nature being what it is, and American definitions of progress being what they are, the tendency is to follow up success with more opportunities for failure.   If too many youngsters are in the “just right” category, then the test must be “too easy.”  Thus we negate the purpose of the criterion referenced testing – to find out if the young test takers are learning what they’re supposed to. Unfortunately, the better the job teachers do in imparting significant knowledge or training young people in important skills, the less likely there will be items on a norm-referenced test measuring those bits, (see Score Variance) and the greater the likelihood we’ll move the goal posts in criterion referenced testing.

Meanwhile back in the billfold: Test manufacturers and their $2 billion annual revenue business will continue to ride the political winds in which some blow-hards declare that satisfactory test scores should be a prime method to measure “effective teaching.”  Thereby conveniently ignoring the confounding causality trap, and using the results to (1) declare Schools Are Failing and should be (2) the subject of True Universal School Choice.  As long as politicians are perfectly willing to out-source the evaluation of schools and classrooms to corporate interests, corporate interests will be just as willing to manufacture “assessment” and “measurement” vehicles for this spiraling cycle.  With, of course, the local taxpayer footing the bill.

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