Nevada Teachers Protest for Bigger School Budget Despite COVID-19 Shortfalls

Drew Schaar, a member of the Empower Nevada Teachers, protests in Carson City . Photo by Isaac Hoops.

A State with Lower Education Spending

Nevada spends roughly 30 percent less on education than the rest of the country on average. In a normal situation, this can make it difficult for teachers to provide a quality educational experience. When a global pandemic is brought into the mix, a bad situation can put a generation of students at risk.

This President’s Day, members of Empower Nevada Teachers, a local grassroots teacher and educational advocacy group started by current Washoe County School District teachers, supporters and students gathered together in front of the Nevada State Senate to call upon lawmakers to provide more funding for Nevada’s schools.

The slogan for the group, which was founded in 2019, is ‘Red For Ed’ and the crowd displayed it with their bright red shirts, scarves, masks and hats.

Drew Schaar, a technology teacher at Mineral County High School in Hawthorne, Nevada, made the two hour long drive to Carson City to give a voice to the rural counties of Nevada. “We are here to ensure that there is funding for all education, but especially equal funding for rural communities,” Schaar said.

Schaar graduated from the same high school he is working in today. “I graduated in 2007 and the inequities that we have in the funding means that we have the same computers in my computer class that we had when I was in high school, 13 to 15 years ago,” Schaar said.

With how quickly technology is advancing, Schaar is concerned that his students may not have access to adequate resources which can help them advance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Schaar said he would like to see funding “from the recreational marijuana and medicinal marijuana [tax]. They had stated a lot of it is going to education, and we have yet to see any of that money,” he said.

According to experts who have studied the situation, though, the raised money coming in from marijuana sales has been going to rainy day emergency funds, and when applied to schools does not increase budgets but fills shortfalls.

An issue caused by lack of funding which directly affects both teachers and students is the amount of students per classroom. Classroom sizes for both online and in person learning can be overwhelming. Photo by Isaac Hoops.

Classroom Sizes at Forefront of Concerns

“At the beginning of this year, I had 28 first graders. Generally, we try to keep it below a total of 23,” said Rachel Fisher, a distance learning first grade teacher at the Sparks-based Lena Juniper Elementary school.

Fisher believes that to combat this, schools need adequate staffing. However she said class sizes seem to be going up every year.

“I see classrooms with 45 sixth graders in them, where there’s literally no room to spare. You can’t walk around, you can’t track students’ work, it makes being engaged a lot more difficult–all of that just becomes exponentially more difficult the more students you have per class,” Fisher said.

Being a member of Empower Nevada Teachers, Fisher is passionate about speaking up for students and employees of the Nevada Public Education System. “It is my hope that instead of spending millions of dollars to testing corporations, that we can trust teachers to be the professionals that they are and teach what the students actually need to be taught,” Fisher said.

Another priority for the group is increasing their salaries. Lawmakers currently looking at the education budget are dealing with COVID-19 shortfalls, with any raise in taxes needing a challenging two-thirds vote. There are longstanding efforts to reduce this to a simple majority if the aim of raising taxes is for K-12 education.

Reporting by Isaac Hoops for the Reynolds Sandbox

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