(Jim Clark) – Governor Jim Gibbons stunned the education and political world last week when he announced a proposal for sweeping changes to Nevada’s K-12 education laws including elimination of collective bargaining with teacher unions, a statewide school voucher program, elimination of the State Board of Education, elimination of class size reduction requirements, elimination of full day kindergarten and repealing a 2003 law by the teacher union prohibiting student achievement data from being used in teacher evaluations.
And he wants to enact all this at a special session of the legislature.
Is this a serious proposal or is he just trying to force Brian Sandoval, who is polling about 15 to 20 points ahead of him with Republican voters, a bit to the left? Pundits point out that this is Gibbons’ 4th year in office and ask why he hasn’t proposed all this before now?
Skeptics may be right but I’m inclined to think he’s serious.
For one thing the announcement was made not by Gibbons but by his deputy chief of staff, Lynn Hettrick. Lynn used to be Incline’s assemblyman, is one of the most ethical politicians alive and is not likely to participate in shenanigans.
For another during the regular session legislation is controlled by the Democratic senate and assembly so such proposals would not see the light of day. But in a special session the governor controls the agenda so his education proposals must be dealt with.
Finally, K-12 education accounts for more than half of Nevada’s budget so if there’s a projected shortfall education is a good place to look for savings.
Washoe County’s school superintendent Heath Morrison said that he is still studying the proposal but he added: “I’ll say there are elements (of the proposal) that give us more control and flexibility that we would certainly appreciate.”
I think his comment reflects the fact that legislative mandates to school districts are so overwhelming that there is barely any flexibility in the school district budget. Gibbons’ plan would create “empowerment” school districts by severely curtailing mandates such as classroom size reduction and all day kindergarten, allowing districts to spend money where they believe it will do the greatest good.
The repeal of collective bargaining would permit school districts to allocate their resources more efficiently but Nevada Education Association President Lynn Warne thinks Gibbons is just “politicking for his reelection” so she did not respond point by point. We can assume she would not look kindly on erosion of any teacher union rights.
A statewide voucher program in which parents could use public money to decide where their child goes to school . . . public, charter or private . . . would be a sharp departure from current practice.
The oldest public voucher program in the US is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. An analysis of the plan by its “officially appointed researcher”, John F. Witte, shows that parents of “choice” children virtually unanimously love it. Freedom of school choice has markedly improved parents’ participation in their children’s education, according to Witte.
A second study by Harvard and University of Houston researchers found that “choice” students benefit academically from the program in both reading and mathematics. Finally the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in March 2009 that students who attend voucher schools are more likely to graduate than Milwaukee Public Schools students.
Whether Gibbons is serious about his proposal or just engaging in political grandstanding it looks like he is on to something. Let’s see what happens in the polls and the legislature.
(Mr. Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com)