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Moratorium on Public Charter Schools in Nevada Avoided; SPCSA to Create Five-Year Plan

By Maggie O’Neill

Although a moratorium on the expansion of public charter schools in Nevada was avoided during the state’s 80th Legislative session, the state’s existing charter schools should now receive more oversight and charter school growth is expected to be outlined in a five-year plan, as the result of a passed education bill.

Assembly Bill 462, initially introduced to include a moratorium on the expansion of new public charter schools in the SIlver State, was amended in the Legislature to allow the State Public Charter School Authority (SPCSA) to improve communication between it and the state’s school districts about charter school applicants as well as to require site visits of charter schools.

Oversight is important to Nevada U.S. Congresswoman Dina Titus, who says she believes charter schools should be closely regulated.

“I’ve spent much of my career in public service helping provide Nevada students with the resources they need to thrive,” says Titus. “Public schools and magnet schools are the best use of public dollars. I believe that charter schools must be closely regulated so that they are held to the same standards as public schools in terms of accountability and transparency. Our students deserve nothing less.”

No moratorium on new charter schools was put into place with the amendments made to A.B. 462, which passed in the state assembly 37-4 (with one absentee) and in the state senate 21-0. As passed, the bill also requires the SPCSA to create a plan for managing the growth of charter schools in the Silver State in upcoming years.

Currently, there are more than 70 public charter schools in the state, according to the Nevada Department of Education website. These include Beacon Academy in Las Vegas, Alpine Academy in Sparks and the Learning Bridge in Ely, among many others. 

The mission of the SPCSA, according to its website, is to improve and influence “public education in Nevada by sponsoring public charter schools that prepare all students for college and career success and by modeling best practices in charter school sponsorship.”

On its website, the SPCSA lists performance, financial and organizational frameworks for charter schools within the state and also provides an application packet. The Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) supported A.B. 462 as originally introduced, but noted the language in the bill was replaced to require the SPCSA to prepare a five-year growth management plan. 

In a letter written to the Senate Committee on Education in April 2019, the NSEA encouraged the Legislature to strengthen control of the state charter schools and to cap charter school expansion. The letter stated: “Over the last 22 years, charter schools have grown dramatically to include large numbers of charters that are privately managed, largely unaccountable and not transparent as to their operations or performance. Many charter schools devolved far from the original concept as small incubators of education innovation.”

The NSEA suggested amendments such as capping the  number of new charter school applications to be approved by the State Public School Authority to 10 a year, not  allowing any charter school with a one-star rating to expand and not letting any charter school increase its enrollment by more than 5 percent a year.

Of note, 58 of the 77 bills that the NSEA supported passed in both houses while 12 out of 13 bills it opposed failed.

A full directory of all of the charter schools in the state is listed on the Nevada Department of Education website. A quick look at the list shows many of them are sponsored through the SPCSA, although many also are sponsored through individual school districts, such as the Academy for Career Education (ACE) by the Washoe County School District and Innovations International Charter School by the Clark County School District.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has brought attention to the charter school issue and voiced support for charter schools and school vouchers during her initial confirmation hearing. During a 2019 Congressional hearing, she said that the U.S. needs more charter schools not less of them, but Nevada U.S. Congresswoman has spoken out against DeVos, saying that she has been “very destructive” as education secretary.

Similarly, Nevada U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto also expressed displeasure at DeVos’ support of charter schools. This came across in a statement in which she opposed DeVos’ nomination as U.S. Secretary of Education.

“Betsy DeVos has no background in public education. In fact, her only experience for this job is her decades of fighting to divert money away from public education to support charter schools and vouchers for private, religious schools – an ideological cause that has been disastrous for her home state and is diametrically opposed to the Department of Education’s mission of ensuring equal access to a great education,” Cortez Masto said.

The Legislature also passed S.B. 551 that expands a state payroll tax that was otherwise set to expire and that will create more funding for pay raises for public school teachers in the next biennium. The funding was enough to provide pay raises for teachers in Clark County, the largest school district in the Silver State. Sufficient pay for teachers supported by Nevada U.S. Congresswoman Dina Titus.

“A good teacher can change a student’s life forever,” she says. “If our society claims to truly value our educators, we must show it by how we pay them.”

Additionally, Nevada U.S. Congressman Mark Amodei has said he supports incentive pay for teachers, but that pay is an issue that should be determined locally.

“I also believe that while all teachers should be given a base salary, creating incentive bonuses for teachers that are tied to improved student performance would encourage increased creativity and enthusiasm in the classroom,” he said in a statement on his government website. “”Better teachers should receive compensation for their skills and additional efforts.” 

He also noted that incentive bonuses would attract well-educated people into the teaching workforce and enable them to stay with the career  -- which would benefit student performance, too.

“Ultimately, teacher pay is something that schools and local administrators should determine,” he said. “I care deeply about the future of our nation's educational system and believe we need to empower local leaders to allocate funds which will improve student achievement and then determine what path is best for their students to take.”