Historic state education budget will help several Clark County programs

LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) -- As the clock ticked off the final minutes of the 2015 legislative session Monday, dust was settling from arguments over a state budget that received final approval earlier in the day.

That budget, proposed and later amended by Gov. Brian Sandoval, provides historic support to K-12 education.

The 78th session of the Nevada Legislature adjourns at midnight as required by the constitution, capping a tumultuous 120-day session that saw lawmakers, for the first time, enact a gross receipts tax. Much of the money is targeted to improving Nevada's historically lagging public school system.

"This vote symbolizes the turning of a page to a new chapter in the incredible story of the Nevada family," Sandoval said in a statement. "The passage of this bill begins a new era of public education in Nevada, a time when our students and schools are a priority in our communities."

Nowhere are the stakes higher than in the Clark County School District, the nation's 5th largest.

The budget, awaiting the governor's signature, pays for many new education reforms, and expands others.

In Clark County, Zoom schools, schools designed to help students who are learning English, will see a dramatic expansion. The district expects to double the number of schools to 32 from the current 16, and include a middle and high school in the mix as well. Currently, all Zoom schools are at the elementary level.

Asked if the Zoom school program works, Martinez Elementary School principal Tim Adams is emphatic.

"Absolutely," he said. "Without a doubt. Kids are excited to come to school, kids are learning and the data is showing it."

Zoom schools are just one component in the state education budget, which will funnel $100 million dollars into the program, up from $50 million. The state also is spending $50 million on what are called "Victory Schools," which will specialize in helping students in poverty.

Gifted and talented students, long ignored by bigger problems, will see the state spend $10 million on programs to help them excel. The budget also expands full day kindergarten to all schools statewide.

The 2015-2017 budget spends $2.85 billion on K-12 education, approximately a 16 percent increase from the current budget.

Back at Martinez Elementary, teacher Alyssa Draher works with students in small groups, who leave their classrooms to come for specialized instruction.

"We focus on vocabulary, academic conversations, making sure that they're having strong discussions so that they can learn how to build their vocabulary and conversations," Draher said.

One of the Zoom school's biggest assets is smaller class size, which allows for more individual attention.

"It's nice to have that smaller class size - that's probably one of the greatest benefits of teaching at a Zoom school," said kindergarten teacher Raeleen Martinez.

Anita Gorman, soon to be a second grader is a Zoom school disciple. She loves it.

"I liked reading about books," she said. For good measure, she added, "I like my teachers."

The School District is keeping its eye on another measure. Reached just after 3 p.m. Monday, district lobbyist Joyce Haldeman told News 3 the measure to break up the district was still alive, still sitting in a committee. The situation could change as the night progressed.

The district does not support AB394 because, in the view of school officials, it gives too much power to a committee that would study and prepare for the breakup, with no option for the 2017 Legislature to revisit the issue.

Haldeman told News 3 the issue is too important not to continue the discussion in two years. Another Senate measure would study the plan, which is something the district supports.