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Pandemic Threatens Nevada's Educational Workforce

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(AP Photo/Scott Sonner, File)

In this Aug. 18, 2020, file photo, students return to Greenbrae Elementary School in Sparks, Nev., for the first time since March with mandatory masks and social distancing to help guard against the spread of the coronavirus.

A recent Pew analysis of national employment data found Nevada could lose more than 19% of its local educational workforce as a result of the pandemic – the most of any state.

For the Clark County School District, that could translate into about 1,500 jobs.

And Governor Steve Sisolak just asked every department in the state to prepare for budget cuts during the next legislative session in February.

Ian Hartshorn is an assistant professor of political science at UNR. He said Nevada could lose so many more jobs than other states because of the impact the pandemic has had on the hospitality industry.

“So as the state of Nevada gets less revenue from its traditional sources, there is less to spend for things like public education,” he said.

Hartshorn calls the estimate of Nevada losing nearly one in every five workers from the education sector "a drastic estimate," because a lot depends on the state budget and what the Legislature is able to do in the 2021 session.

One of the problems is that Nevada's state budget is very dependent on sales tax and attempts to increase taxes on mining and the casino industry has so far not had much success.

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Hartshorn said the lack of a diversified tax base in the Silver State is perennial. During this past summer's special legislative session, lawmakers talked about diversifying the tax structure so when the hospitality or mining industries are hurt the whole state isn't put into shock.

“Teachers aren’t the only ones calling for that," Hartshorn said, "A broad coalition organizations across the state have called for reconsideration of our taxes.”

Hartshorn said similar debates have happened in other states as teachers look to better secure their jobs and pay.

When education jobs are lost, Hartshorn said, it impacts more than just that employee. He noted that education is about raising a new generation of Nevadans.

“We know that cuts to education can intensify inequality, and we know that that can lead to economic problems down the line,” he said.

Hartshorn said many people are looking at protecting and improving education as an investment in our economy long term.

Education jobs are also an important part of the middle-class, he said. While 55,000 people across the state work directly in education, thousands more work in the sector as a whole.

 “There are thousands of more folks that are involved in working on universities and college campuses, working in our K through 12 institutions, who may not necessarily be a teacher in a classroom,” he said.

Those wage earnings have strong connections to the community and spend their money in that community. 

“It is important in terms of preserving a good group of middle-class jobs in the public sector that have folks closely tied to their community,” he said.

Patty Pason was part of that workforce in Elko. She retired from teaching four years ago.

She told KNPR's State of Nevada that at one time rural schools were well funded, but the Great Recession caused a shift that left rural schools cutting budgets.

“Our budgets were being cut a little bit every single year,” she said.

The budget cuts can impact recruiting especially in rural areas where it can already be difficult to find teachers. That combined with veteran teachers retiring or leaving because of the pandemic, the quality of education could be impacted.

The cuts in education jobs goes beyond K through 12. Nevada's higher education system has already seen millions of dollars in cuts.

John Nolan is the head of the Nevada Faculty Alliance chapter at UNR. He said the cuts in higher ed have been offset - so far.

“The ramifications from that so far have been muted because the board of regents and each institution have done a very good job in trying to alleviate a lot of the more potentially devastating effects of that by using reserve funds and by also using investment accounts to offset a lot of the more severe cuts that would have had to follow from those budget cuts,” he said.

But now that those reserves have been used up, another round of cuts could hurt a lot more.

“They will have to make tough decisions, and it is quite scary,” he said.

Those cuts could have a long term impact on enrollment, Nolan said. If students believe a university or college is hurting financially, they might decide to go to another school.

Nolan started working at UNR just after some of the major cuts that followed the Great Recession. He said in the years after the recession the university had worked to rebuild programs that had been cut, and now, that progress could be in jeopardy.

“They got back a lot of what they lost, and now, we’re at a situation where we could start completely reverse back to where we before," he said.

(Editor's Note: This discussion originally aired November 2020)

Guests

Ian M. Hartshorn, Assistant Professor of Political Science, UNR; Patty Pason, retired teacher, Elko; John Nolan, Lecturer of Management and head of Nevada Faculty Alliance UNR chapter 

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