One school district serves all of Clark County, which has an 8,100 square-mile footprint and a population of nearly 2,000,000 residents. (Clark County’s population is about the same size as Connecticut and Delaware combined.) The City of Las Vegas is located within Clark County with surrounding smaller municipalities like Henderson, North Las Vegas, Laughlin, Boulder City, Sandy Valley and Moapa making up the enrollment of the school district.
In 1956, the Clark County School District (“CCSD”) was created as the result of a legislated mandate requiring the consolidation of all state school districts into 17 county school districts. At the time, CCSD had a student enrollment of 20,000. Nearly fifty years later, CCSD is the 5th largest district in the country, serving over 320,000 students, and is Nevada’s largest employer with over 40,000 employees.
During the “boom years” from 1998 to 2008, Las Vegas was the fastest growing city in the country, which put tremendous pressure on CCSD. The school district increased enrollment by 200,000 students (which is as many students as attend the entire Houston Independent School District), tripling in size in 10 years. The district was building a school per month to keep up with the growing demand.
In 2008, the Las Vegas economy experienced a significant recession and quickly shifted from the fastest growing economy to the hardest hit, with skyrocketing foreclosures and, for the first time in nearly two decades, a decrease in student enrollment. Now that the Las Vegas economy is slowly recovering, Clark County is growing again at a rapid rate. The National Center for Education Statistics has issued projections that show Nevada continuing to lead the nation in enrollment growth, with a projected 28% increase in student enrollment between 2008 and 2020.
CCSD is a district in dire straits. Schools are overcrowded1, only 10% of our high school graduates are prepared for higher education and children living in poverty continue to fall further behind.2 CCSD schools started the 2015-16 school year with 900 teacher vacancies in high- need subject areas like science, math and special education3. Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that CCSD is also in the middle of a reorganization process, which leaves its future uncertain.
Families in Clark County have limited options for excellent tuition-free public schools. Some families are lucky enough to live in a zone with an open enrollment five-star school; other families dissatisfied with their options can apply to a magnet school, with a 34% chance of being admitted,4 or a local high-performing charter school. For the students in Clark County who are not so lucky, the options are bleak. In 2013-14, thousands of families were waitlisted for many of Clark County’s best magnet and charter schools, indicating a great demand in our community for increased access to excellent schools.
In addition to inconsistent access to high-quality schools, Clark County has significant achievement gaps across socioeconomic lines. Children living in poverty have a far greater chance of not graduating from high school than their more affluent peers. Based on the Nevada School Performance Framework, only 17% of our students attend a best-in-class five-star public school, while 25% are zoned to our lowest performing schools.
Opportunity 180 believes all students deserve great schools. We created the Priority Footprint Map below in an effort to focus our work where there is the greatest need. This map highlights the Clark County zip codes with the highest concentration of elementary students attending low-performing schools (i.e. schools that received a one- or two-star rating on the Nevada School Performance Framework). We have chosen to analyze concentrated areas with low-performing elementary schools because they have the smallest geographic attendance boundaries, unlike our middle and high schools with much wider boundaries given their larger student populations. By examining smaller attendance boundaries, we are able to determine in greater detail, which communities have the greatest need for high-quality public schools. In addition, Opportunity 180 believes we need great urban elementary, middle and high schools, and we look forward to building out K-12 pathways with the schools we support to transform students’ lives.
The opportunity gap for our children living in poverty is a serious crisis. The civil injustice of tens of thousands of students not being able to read, write and do math at a level that prepares them for success will prevent us from reaching our fullest potential as a major global economic marketplace.
Undoubtedly, our public school system has pockets of excellence that should be celebrated and recognized. Many of our five-star schools have tremendous results, but we just don’t have enough excellent seats available for all kids that want the opportunity to succeed.
The 83,000 students in our low performing schools don’t have a fair chance to achieve their dreams, simply because of where they live. We can and we must provide a new way of doing things to catalyze positive change for our children who need it most.