According to the latest “Kids Count” report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, kids in Nevada don’t count, and too many of our kids can’t count. Nevada’s public school system ranked the worst in the nation for the third straight year, and speaking to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, state superintendent of education Dale Erquiaga inadvertently offered a harsh illustration as to why.
“There’s no excuse for us to be 10 to 20 points behind the rest of the nation [in students graduating high school on time],” Erquiaga said. “Districts have to continue rethinking their efforts before students fall so far behind they can’t catch up in time.” He added that our school districts need to concentrate on boosting graduation rates and passing exit exams, which require all students to prove that they have learned the most important thing they need to know after 13 years of education: how to take a test.
Not that Erquiaga intended to take a so-called liberal position—that would be taking his words out of context—but he did point out that having one in four Nevada children living in poverty, an 85 percent increase in a quarter of a century, certainly doesn’t help. To put it another way, it’s hard for children to hear their teachers over their growling stomachs.
Yes, some numbers from the report offer a little cause for optimism: In most of the categories in which the Casey Foundation rates education, Nevada did improve a little, especially in child health. But Erquiaga says he finds the overall picture as unacceptable as the rest of us should. Consider that half of the state’s public school students qualifying for cheap or free school meals. “That’s our demographic,” Erquiaga told the R-J. “This is who we are as a people.”
Who we are, as Nevadans, are a people unwilling to pay the price for better education. Legislators have refused to fund it. Activists have gotten the Education Initiative, a 2 percent margins tax on businesses to fund schools, on the ballot, where it will be the subject of a great deal of spending to defeat it in the fall.
Of course, historically, Nevadans have been willing to support higher taxes on gaming and hotels. Why? Tourists, they reasoned, pay the bulk of those taxes. In other words, let somebody else pay the freight. No wonder our kids need a free lunch: They live in a state whose residents want one, too.