In his State of the State speech last Thursday, Governor Brian Sandoval presented the Legislature with a trailblazing map to guide Nevada to its bicentennial in 2064.
That’s the over-the-rainbow place where the Tesla deal pays off, and innovative profitable taxpaying businesses compete to hire qualified Nevadans in our state’s thriving economy. It’s also where kids start in all-day kindergarten and graduate from high school. In a reformed education system, the dropout rate has plummeted because public high schools embrace and educate freshman teens who graduate from high school “college and career ready.” Is that asking too much?
No, the bulk of Governor’s proposals are what Nevada has needed for a long time. Historically, Nevada’s leaders and voters have settled for cheap short-term fixes rather than sustainable enduring solutions.
Low property taxes, no state income taxes and a regressive sales tax have limited funding solutions for education and other state needs. Predicating the future of the Silver State on tourism-dependent gambling revenues has proven, repeatedly, to be a bad bet.
For decades, Nevada’s political leaders have shied away from making politically tough decisions to restructure education and taxes. Decades of inaction fostered Nevada’s low education rankings, now even more challenging as poverty impacts our schools. Governor Sandoval noted “almost one out of four children in Nevada lives in poverty.” In 2013, 51 percent of Nevada’s students qualified for the free or reduced-price school lunch program, which is now, sadly, the national average. Sandoval is proposing “$2 million to expand breakfast in the classroom” and legislation to leverage federal funding for student nutrition, a building block for learning.
Some of the Governor’s proposals may not be essential to achieve the envisioned educational and tax reform. For example, combining rural school districts and appointing rather than electing school board members may not succeed or be necessary. But overall, crucial educational overhaul in tandem with tax reform is vital for Nevada’s future.
Sandoval’s sweeping educational reforms are a courageous, exciting beginning.
The path forward is more likely to be a knife-edged Himalayan cliffhanger than a yellow brick road. And the leadership needed to fix Nevada is going to take everyone — from the Governor and First Lady to teachers and principals, parents, students and school boards; businesses small and large; legislators and lobbyists, conservatives and progressives, state workers and even curmudgeon taxpayers. Nevada’s successful transition into the mid 21st century future depends on all of us, together.
Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.