guest column:

Businesses on board with education reforms

At a recent meeting, members of the Legislature’s joint tax committee in Carson City heard many voices from throughout the state, including testimony from dozens of business and civic leaders. The discussion centered on education reform programs proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, and perhaps more important, how to pay for them.

Leaders were supportive of what the governor describes as “education reforms for the new Nevada,” including how to fund them. I found the meeting intriguing, if for no other reason than how distinct groups spoke in unison.

The proposals have several attractive common themes — no blank checks for K-12 education, accountability and targeted spending. Importantly, businesses are willing to pay for these reforms.

I have lived in Las Vegas for 43 years, and I have never seen so much support for an issue from so many disparate groups. Two former Democratic governors — Richard Bryan and Bob Miller — and two Republican governors — Robert List and Sandoval — support the plan.

Representatives of Nevadans for the Common Good, a coalition of about three dozen faith-based groups with 40,000 members, and the Council for a Better Nevada, a group of Southern Nevada business leaders, spoke in favor of improving K-12 education, as did the Urban, Asian and Latin chambers of commerce.

I began to wonder if all these groups standing together was a sign of the apocalypse. The spirit of cooperation was pervasive.

John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association, described the significant financial and other contributions of our teachers, the most educated group of workers in Nevada. The union supports initiatives such as pay for performance, teacher professional development, peer-assisted review of teachers and addressing the teacher shortage. All also are embraced by the business community.

Why? Last year, of 251 companies that expressed a real interest in coming to Southern Nevada, 35 percent declined to invest here because our education system did not meet their expectations or our workforce was insufficient, another education issue.

The best line of the day came from Billy Vassiliadis of R&R Partners, speaking on behalf of the gaming industry in support of the governor’s plan: “For decades, we have been at a crossroads in education. It’s time to actually cross the road.”

He’s right. The challenge for all who believe that now is the time to “actually cross the road” is working with elected officials to find a solution that works for Nevadans.

The hearing was a good start. Failure is not an option.

Tags: The Sunday

Glenn Christenson is chairman of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance.