Shades of Julius Caesar in empowerment plan

Joe Enge

It was the same date, centuries ago, when a man popular to the people and dangerous to the elites walked through the Roman forum to the Senate. He would not be returning. It was the Ides of March and conspirators lay in wait.

On the Ides of March this year in Carson City, State Sens. Steven Horsford and Dina Titus unveiled their LEAPS, or Local Empowerment and Accountability for Public Schools, plan.

It is designed to do for Gov. Jim Gibbons' empowerment proposal what senators did for Gaius Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 B.C.

Presenting themselves as "friends" of decentralization for public schools, Horsford and Titus have introduced Senate Bill 304, which would maintain the status quo with only the show and shadow of change.

Under the bill, a school's application for the Horsford-Titus version of decentralization would have to be designed by a team almost half of whose members must be union members. As for the "parent" and "business" elements on the team, no criteria would ensure that they would be other than straw men.

Yet, even such a system-friendly "design team" still faces numerous obstacles to becoming a "local empowerment and accountability school." Under the guise of accountability, the LEAPS process is purposefully designed to fail. Even if approved, the school must go through the entire process once again in three years, and district school boards can yank schools' supposed "empowered" status whenever they might have the whim.

Does this mean that no schools will apply for the status? Actually, no. The districts need to appear to be doing something, so properly connected and controlled schools will be given the green light. Having a few schools so designated will give the proper public appearance of reform — while not threatening the education powers that be.

Have we seen this before? Yes. Nevada's approach to charter school regulation is structured the same way. Only 19 charter schools exist in Nevada, while Arizona, by contrast, has over 500. LEAPS is designed to do to empowerment schools what the school administration-union alliance for years has been doing to Nevada's charter schools. The ed establishment is well practiced at perverting good ideas that would benefit students but might threaten the power structure.

Sean Whaley reported in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that, "Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, said unlike the program proposed by Gibbons, the Democratic plan does not require $60 million in funding and accomplishes empowerment from the ground up, not from the top down."
We should be thankful President Lincoln didn't use such a ground-up approach to freeing the slaves. Emancipation in education is badly needed. That is apparent to most. There is definite momentum for educational reform in Nevada.

Sen. Horsford was quoted as saying, "Empowerment is not a program; it is a process." He has it backwards. Real empowerment, as proposed by Gov. Gibbons, is a program. LEAPS on the other hand is all "process" — purposefully designed to bury a good idea before it becomes too popular with the masses.

Et tu, Bruté?

Joe Enge is education policy analyst at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. This op-ed first appeared in the March 28 Reno Gazette-Journal.