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How population growth affects public education in Southern Nevada

Parents are choosing local private schools, charter schools
Posted at 1:46 PM, Nov 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-09 00:34:06-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The population continues to grow here in Southern Nevada and with more families moving in, it means their children will need to go to school.

In our continuing month-long series: From Meadows to Metropolis, we’ll be exploring how population growth affects public education.

The exponential growth of the Las Vegas valley is no doubt been felt through public education. The Clark County School District grew into the fifth largest in the nation, serving about 310,000 students.

There have been past criticisms of the district becoming too big and unwieldy to serve all its students, bringing up calls to break it up.

“You could have these smaller districts that could be more focused on the actual needs of the student population being served," said Kenneth Retzl, the director of education policy at the Guinn Center.

Retzl says the idea behind smaller districts means a more focused approach to funding like between urban and rural schools.

“More so than with CCSD where there’s a myriad of issues and they’re trying to deal with all of them,” he said.

Retzl says a CCSD breakup though would bring significant logistical challenges.

“Instead of having one superintendent, you have five, six, or seven. However, many districts you decide to have which I think is the first question is how many districts do you have?” he said.

Rebecca Garcia with the Nevada PTA says breaking up the district could cost more money all around.

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“Instead of having one HR department, one legal department, you’re duplicating all those functions and activities,” she said.

Garcia also says equity issues are a concern with population growth across the valley not evenly distributed.

“Would that make districts of haves and have-nots and that we further exacerbate the inequities we already see,” she said.

Despite more people moving to the valley, CCSD enrollment has actually declined from a recent peak of about 321,000 in 2017-2018 to about 310,000 for the 21-22 school year. The pandemic only served as one of a few reasons for the decline.

“Some parents are either choosing private schools or charter schools in the area so you’re going to see that,” Retzl said.

CCSD officials are confident enrollment will eventually bounce back.

“I do believe we’ll have a rebound in CCSD students and obviously that’s going to happen by offering a wide variety of learning experiences,” Jeff Wagner, CCSD facilities chief, said.

To better offer those experiences, the district is working on its capital improvement plan, focusing on replacing and repairing older campuses.

“We have a lot of old schools in the valley that have been neglected and we’re going to have a big push to get those schools up to current standards," Wagner said.

This includes construction at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts. Wagner says better school buildings allow students to be in a 21st-century learning environment.

“The pandemic has brought into a lot of people’s attention things like indoor air quality, outside air, security issues, things of that nature,” he said.

The district is also looking to tackle overcrowding and potential growth. Nevada ranked as having the biggest class sizes in the nation back in 2018. CCSD’s plans include building five new high schools and 10 new elementary schools in the next 14 years.

“We will certainly be building more schools as the valley expands and the demographics information dictates,” Wagner said.

Retzl believes just having enough space for existing students is crucial.

“Are the kids receiving a good education and two, do they have a desk so sit in when they do come,” he said.