April 14, 2016; Elko Daily Free Press

Last week, the state signed a three-year, $10 million contract with Opportunity 180. The Charter School Harbor Master aims to develop high-performing urban charter schools for 25,000 students by 2025. Opportunity 180 was the sole bidder for the contract.

In 2015, the Nevada legislature approved SB 491, a Charter School Harbor Master Fund. This bill allows for the allocation of up to $10 million as a grant award to a nonprofit organization specifically to recruit and support charter school management organizations to the State of Nevada. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval initially proposed putting $20 million into the state-funded harbor master program, but the lawmakers approved half that amount.

While this bill was applauded by charter school advocates, the fast timeline did not allow for much opposition. The bill was introduced in the Senate Finance Committee on April 24, 2015 and signed into law by the governor on June 9, 2015. During the April 24th meeting when the bill was first introduced, Assemblywoman Kirkpatrick and Senator Smith were the only two legislators who made public comments questioning the validity of setting up a $20 million fund to recruit charter management organizations, with Senator Smith stating, “I am not sure it is our job to make sure the charter school industry is successful.”

This bill stipulates that the CMOs recruited must have demonstrated success in operating high-quality charter schools in order to serve high-need areas. The bill also requires the selected nonprofit to show evidence that it has sufficient funding to provide a 1:1 match of grant funding during each biennium. At the time of application, Opportunity 180 had already collected over $4 million in commitments or cash donations.

Like many states, Nevada is facing a statewide teacher shortage. In February, the governor made a statement that, as a way to recruit teachers, licensed teachers in other states can get provisional teaching licenses in Nevada. SB491 is putting some emphasis on developing human capital, but does not outline how Opportunity 180 must do this, or how the new schools being created will be staffed. In the 2015–2017 biennium budget, only $10 million was allocated for underperforming schools, and no money was allocated for teacher recruitment.

The $10 million allocated for the charter harbor master does not require any specific outcomes. While Opportunity 180 has set a goal of supporting 25,000 students, their funding is not reliant on their achievement of that goal. This begs the question, would the students in Nevada be better served by investing that $10 million in the improved infrastructure for all of their schools and the 467,000 students they serve, rather than these 25,000 that may realize a benefit?—Kari Thierer