I-Team: Students Head North in Hopes of Smaller Class Sizes

LAS VEGAS -- Clark County students experience some the largest classes in the country. Although the overcrowding is expected to decrease by one or two students next year, the vast majority of kids won't see any significant change.

Late last year, the I-Team introduced viewers to Ms. Rozgay-Miller's fourth grade class. She started the year with 37 students, today she has 33. The Nevada Legislature is considering class size reduction and Rozgay-Miller saw an opportunity to give her fourth graders a civics lesson in Carson City.

Legislative tour guide Yvonne Reilly leads the fourth graders from Nate Mack Elementary School in a civics lesson, hundreds of miles from campus. While down the hall, state lawmakers consider legislation that will have lasting effects on their classrooms.

Clark County Student-Teacher Ratios Getting Worse

"I hope they will realize that we can do so much more as teachers if we have fewer students in the classroom," said Jeanette Rozgay-Miller, a teacher at Nate Mack Elementary School.

The I-Team first met Ms. Rozgay-Miller's class in November of last year. She started the year with a very full class of 37 students. Nearly two dozen of the students made the trip to the capitol.

"I've done lots of different numbers and I have made the most out of the school years where I have had around 23, 25 students in fourth grade. It is a critical year," Rozgay-Miller said.

For teachers and students, it is a critical session. The issue tops the education agenda. The hope is to bring actual class sizes closer in line with the standards set in state law. Those standards are: A student teacher ratio of 16 to 1 in kindergarten through second grade and an 18 to 1 in third grade.

"We really should be talking about class size K-12," said Nevada State Senator Debbie Smith who has championed for smaller classes for years. And as they have during each prior session, she expects her efforts to again fall short on funding.

"We're just working everyday to try to get our colleagues on this page with us that we need to do something now and not wait. It's frustrating," Smith said.

Governor Brian Sandoval has pledged nearly $40 million to reduce full-day kindergarten classes statewide. It's the first time class size reduction dollars have gone to kindergarten. However, to ease crowded classrooms in every grade, the Clark County School District puts the price tag at more than $1 billion over four years. It's a practical impossibility without new revenue.

The price tag for funding, it is very significant," said Nevada Senator Ben Kieckhefer, a Republican from Washoe County.

Kieckhefer is one of six Republicans who support a new mining tax expected to raise $600 million over the biennium for education. Though not likely to pass this session, it may appear on the 2014 ballot to compete against a two percent business margins tax proposed the by the state teacher's union.

"I've made no bones about it that I'm against the margins tax. The need is true and I don't disagree with it and we've come up with a proposal to fund it long term and we're just getting pushback at this point," he said.

Even the fourth graders know what pushback means. As they learn more about how government works, Ms. Rozgay-Miller hopes her class trip to Carson City will teach her students that they can impact the political process.

This is crunch time at the Legislature. If class size is an issue that's important to you, now is the time to let your voice be heard. Contact the governor or your lawmaker.


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