K-12 public schools in Nevada enroll a little over 430,000 students, with 39% in poverty, 18% learning English, 58% minorities, and annual expenditures of over $3.5 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
Nevada is one of only five states in which no case challenging the state's education finance system has ever been filed. However, in 2003, when the state legislature failed to get the constitutionally-required two-thirds majority to approve the state budget, including education funding, the governor sued the legislature, and the state supreme court concluded that the two-thirds requirement needed to yield to the substantive constitutional right to education.
In Guinn v. Angle, in 2003, the Supreme Court of the State of Nevada was presented with what it described as an “extraordinary circumstance.” 71 P.3d 1269. The legislature was required by the Nevada constitution to approve a balanced budget, including funding for education, by a certain date. A recent amendment to the constitution also mandated a two-thirds majority of the house to pass a bill that would generate public revenue in any form, such as taxes.
The legislature had failed to provide funding for education, because it was unable to get the two-thirds majority it needed to pass the budget. A financial emergency was imminent, teachers had not been hired, programs were cut, and schools were not able to plan for the upcoming school year. The governor therefore asked the court to compel the legislature to fulfill its constitutional duty to pass a balanced budget, including appropriations for education.
The court recognized that the legislature had failed to fulfill the constitutional mandate because of conflict between several provisions within the constitution, and therefore found that it was the judiciary’s responsibility to reconcile the provisions. The court concluded that education is a basic constitutional right in Nevada, and that, “[w]hen a procedural requirement that is general in nature prevents funding for a basic, substantive right, the procedure must yield.” The court therefore found that the two-thirds majority requirement must yield to the specific substantive educational right.
A couple of weeks later, the Legislature funded the public school system and balanced the budget, and it adopted the revenue-raising legislation required to balance the budget by the two-thirds supermajority.
Earlier that day, a group of legislators filed a rehearing petition asking the court to reconsider its opinion. The court declined to reach the issues they raised, holding that their petition became moot when the Legislature passed the revenue-generating bills by the requisite two-thirds vote. 76 P.3d 22.
Also, the holding in Guinn, that procedural constitutional requirements must yield to substantive constitutional requirements, was overruled in 2006 in Nevadans for Nevada v. Beers, wherein the court concluded that the Nevada Constitution should be read as a whole, so as to give effect to and harmonize each provision.
“The legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, literary, scientific, mining, mechanical, agricultural, and moral improvements, and also provide for a superintendent of public instruction and by law prescribe the manner of appointment, term of office and the duties thereof.” Nev. Const. art. 11, § 1.
“The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year ... and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.” Nev. Const. art. 11, § 2.
The Nevada State Pre-Kindergarten Education Program has funded pre-K programs through a competitive grant process. The program is rated a 7 out of 10 on the established quality indicators but serves only 2% of 4 year-olds and 1% of 3 year-olds.
The program is administered by the Nevada Department of Education and operated through school districts and community-based organizations, including private child care centers, family childcare homes, and Head Start centers. Grants also go to the statewide Classroom on Wheels program, a bus-based mobile early childhood education classroom. Programs must collaborate and coordinate with existing programs and other community services.
The program offers preschool access to 3-, 4-, and 5-year olds using eligibility criteria based on each program’s assessment of local community needs. Four- and 5-year-olds who will be eligible for kindergarten the following year receive first priority, though children also may be eligible if they are English Language Learners, are from low-income families, or if they have an IEP.
The programs must meet at least 10 hours a week.
Funding levels for grantees are determined based on the needs expressed in individual grant applications. Program funding stayed the same from the 2008-2009 to 2009-2010 school years. However, through increased collaboration and blended funding streams, programs were able to serve 109 additional children.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Nevada served only 2% of 4 year-olds and 1% of 3 year-olds in its state pre-K program in 2009-2010.
Nevada reached 7 out of the 10 benchmarks.
The 7 benchmarks reached were:
- Early Learning Standards
- Teacher must have Bachelor’s degree
- Requirement that teachers have specialized training in pre-K education
- Teacher in-service (at least 15 hours/year)
- Class size limits of 20 students
- Class ratio of 1:10 or better
- Monitoring/Site visit program
The 3 benchmarks not met were:
- Assistant teacher must have a Child Development Associate credential, or equivalent
- Screening/referral and support services
- Requirement to provide at least one meal a day
Through two types of evaluation, annual and longitudinal, this program has been evaluated for both process quality and program impact/child outcomes.
The program has implemented a statewide pilot project to assess the learning gains of children identified as Limited English Proficient (who represent 48.5 percent of enrollment). The project uses Pre-LAS, a measure of oral language proficiency and pre-literacy skills. Additionally, the state conducts a longitudinal evaluation each year, with the first cohort of students now in Grade 6.