For your tax increases, you’ll get only minor education reforms

Victor Joecks

After last week's Supreme Court decision — and its potential implications — created a $650 million hole in Gov. Brian Sandoval's budget, he gave up holding the line on taxes and now supports raising at least a portion of the job-killing revenue measures that were due to "sunset."

Why the governor so quickly decided to break his promise not to raise taxes — rather than returning spending to the levels he proposed in his original executive budget — is unknown. Nevertheless, breaking his promise on taxes did give him leverage to negotiate some reforms. And, as part of the deal for higher taxes, legislative Democrats agreed to beef up two education bills, AB225 and AB229.

Unfortunately, the reforms included in AB225 and AB229 are fairly minor and will have minimal impact on increasing student achievement in Nevada. This differs from the governor's original reform package, which included one-year contracts for teachers, vouchers and ending social promotion.

  • Now it will take teachers three years to gain post-probationary status, aka tenure. Currently, 95 percent of teachers gain tenure after one year.
  • Now administrators can fire ineffective teachers, but only after three years of poor evaluations. After two years of "below average" evaluations, a "tenured" teacher would go back on probationary status. After a year on probationary status, he or she could be terminated.
  • No longer would layoffs be based solely on seniority, supposedly ending the "Last in, First out" policy most school districts now use to determine layoffs. Factors to be considered include performance evaluations, degrees and disciplinary records.
  • Teacher evaluations will now contain four categories, rather than two. Instead of being rated satisfactory or unsatisfactory, teachers will be evaluated as highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective.
  • The law allowing tenured teachers to be put on probation cannot be superseded by collective bargaining agreements. The Democrats' original bill said its provisions could be superseded by the union contracts, allowing teacher unions to effectively neuter the reform.

While these reforms are improvements, they are exceptionally minor given Nevada's needs and given the substantial reforms that states like Florida have made to their K-12 systems.

It's an improvement that it now takes teachers three years to earn "tenure," but the real question is: "Why do teachers even have tenure?" Private sector employees are at-will, which means that they can be fired at any time, for any reason. Why are ineffective teachers given special protections?

It's an improvement that "tenured" teachers can now be removed from the classroom, but why does it take three years to do so? That's 60 to 90 kids whose education will be significantly harmed by teachers that administrators know are ineffective. Three years also gives the teacher union much time and ample opportunities to pressure administrators — resulting in even fewer ineffective teachers leaving the classroom.

Ending "Last in, First out" is a no-brainer. But given the natural turn-over and retirements in school districts, very few, if any, teachers will be laid off, even during the worst economy in the last 50 years.

Four options for evaluating teachers, rather than two, is fine. It may be helpful someday in a pay-for-performance system. But it's hardly a game-changer.

What is especially sad for Nevada parents, students and effective teachers is that we know what increases student achievement.

Florida's reforms have shown Nevada the way, and Sandoval's original reform package would have put in place the very reforms that produced Florida's dramatic increases in student achievement.

Instead, Nevada will face two years of higher taxes with only trivial education reforms — assuming, as has been reported, that the governor actually insists the "sun-setting" taxes actually sunset in 2013.

Taxpayers have once again been schooled — in cynicism.

Victor Joecks is the communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more information visit