With his college-bound daughter watching over his shoulder Monday, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law legislation creating millions of dollars in incentives to help combat Nevada’s severe teacher shortage.
The bill establishes scholarships for college students studying education and bonuses for new teachers working in low-rated schools. It’s part of an overall education package totaling hundreds of millions of dollars that the Republican-controlled Legislature recently approved as part of a $1.1 billion tax increase over two years.
“We have made an historical, unprecedented investment in education,” Sandoval told about two dozen students, teachers and others who gathered in the Reno High School library for the bill signing ceremony Monday afternoon.
“As I sign this bill, from this day forward I hope I’ve inspired all of you to become a Nevada scholar, a Nevada teacher,” he said alongside daughter Maddy, a senior who is enrolling this fall at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she plans to study to become an elementary school teacher.
Introduced late in the session, the bill creates the Teach Nevada Scholarship program, which offers up to $3,000 per semester for students studying education or completing a licensing program at Nevada colleges. Students would earn three-quarters of the scholarship while in school, and have the rest awarded to them after teaching in Nevada for five years.
“These things cost money,” Sandoval said. The second-term GOP governor singled out for thanks Assemblyman Randy Kimer, R-Reno, who represents the neighborhoods surrounding the high school and attended the bill signing ceremony.
“I don’t know how much you followed in your government classes what happened at the Legislature, but it was a tough road at the end,” Sandoval said. “It really took a lot of courage for some of these people to be supportive of that budget because it meant tax increases. It requires investments.”
The measure allocates $10 million in incentives and $5 million in teacher training scholarships, with another $10 million in new teacher bonuses added in a last-minute appropriation in Sandoval’s approved two-year budget. That includes a $5,000 yearly bonus as an incentive for new teachers working in lowly rated schools. The program is set to expire after two years.
Clark County School District alone is trying to hire more than 2,000 new teachers for next school year. Education officials say low starting pay, difficult working conditions and high demand nationwide is complicating their task.
State Superintendent Dale Erquiaga said failure to address the state’s teacher shortage would translate into failure for other ambitious K-12 education plans included in the governor’s budget.
“Those initiatives will fail if we don’t address the teacher shortage,” he said at a hearing last month. “That conversation has gotten louder as the session has gone on.”
Also on Monday, Sandoval said Monday he wants state transportation officials to consider adding support for self-driving cars as part of a multimillion-dollar highway widening and expansion project in Las Vegas.
The Republican governor, who referenced a self-driving semitruck that Daimler Trucks unveiled last month, said he wants Nevada to be at the forefront of the emerging self-driving vehicle industry.
“No one would have ever imagined this iPhone a few years ago, and I feel the same way about these autonomous vehicles,” Sandoval said.
He also said he wants Nevada to host a conference centered on self-driving car manufacturers by the end of the year.
Tom Skancke, a member of the state Department of Transportation’s board of directors, supported the idea and said it could help foster an emerging technology industry in Nevada.
“We could become the pilot as opposed to San Diego or Orange County, who always gets the first bite of the apple,” he said.
Board members were updated on Project Neon, a multiyear project to widen and improve a 3.7-mile stretch of Interstate 15 between Sahara Avenue and the Spaghetti Bowl connection with U.S. 95 near downtown Las Vegas.
Transportation officials said that the project is six to eight months from beginning initial construction and the state has spent more than $102 million in acquiring land to expand the highway.