With Nevada’s health care and economic road to recovery being firmly rooted in a successful vaccine rollout and distribution, it is critical that the Legislature focus on another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic: our public education system.
Last month, we released the Nevada Education Recovery Plan, a package of four bills providing new and enhanced programming to students most severely impacted by school closures and the adverse effects of digital learning.
While it will be years before we truly understand the impacts of this pandemic on our students, early data is stark. In the Washoe County School District, absenteeism during the current school year is rampant. More than half of high school students have been chronically absent. Additionally, more than a third of high school students are failing at least one subject. Chronic absenteeism might be one of the biggest threats to academic achievement and is an issue we cannot ignore.
The Clark County School District is having similar problems. Thirteen percent of all grades given in Clark County during the first semester of the 2020-21 school year were F’s, more than doubling the percentage from the previous year. Data presented by the Washoe and Clark school districts also shows growing disparities for English Language Learners, minorities and students from low-income households.
With indicators this dramatic, we need to implement targeted interventions to help our students regain some of the learning they lost and help get their educational recovery underway. The four bills we presented will aid that recovery and are outlined below:
— Senate Bill 272 would create the Nevada Educator Corps, providing state-funded tutoring services to support classroom instruction and offer high-quality tutors to students who need additional assistance.
— Senate Bill 273 would restore funding for Nevada’s Read by Third Grade program and maintain it as a stand-alone program. In 2019, for the first time ever, Nevada’s fourth grade students scored at the national average for reading. We must do everything we can to help them regain this growth and continue to improve.
— Senate Bill 312 would appropriate additional funding for high-quality Pre-K seats for low-income Nevada children. These additional seats would prepare Nevada’s next generation of students for a post-pandemic classroom experience.
— Senate Bill 316 would create a fifth year pilot program for high school students who weren’t able to graduate because of COVID-19. This program would support cohorts of students in each high school with credit recovery, dual enrollment, mentorship and financial literacy.
It’s important to note that federal funding from the December 2020 stimulus bill is available to pay for these programs. But the state’s share of funding, as well as other pools of federal support, has not been allocated. Targeted interventions for students to address the impacts of COVID-19 are the most appropriate way to spend those funds.
These ideas complement the proposed Back on Track legislation offered by our colleague, state Sen. Marilyn Dondero-Loop, which would provide critical summer school support for students to help them prepare for the next school year. We support this legislation and appreciate our colleague’s leadership on this issue.
To be clear, we need robust, effective programming to immediately support our students. The pandemic has created sizable gaps in our students’ educational experience, and it is incumbent on us to help close them. The Nevada Education Recovery Plan will help us do just that.
— Heidi Seevers Gansert and Ben Kieckhefer are both Reno Republicans serving in the Nevada Senate.