Author: Catherine Levy, Director of Public Affairs

Keeping up with Carson City: The Hispanic Caucus #nvleg

The R&R government affairs team is busily tracking bills and generally keeping its finger on the pulse of the capital goings-on in Nevada during the 76th session of the Legislature.  The following is one in an occasional series of blogs designed to bring you news, interviews and perspectives that we think you’ll find interesting and valuable.

The Hispanic Caucus

The 2011 Nevada Legislature not only includes a large freshman class, but also the largest number of Hispanic lawmakers in the history of the body.  Eight legislators – two senators and six assemblymen and women – are of Hispanic descent, and have formed a Hispanic Caucus.  We talked to two of these legislators about the need for a Hispanic Caucus, the role the caucus will play this session, and what issues will be at the forefront of their minds.

Senator Mo Denis:

“The biggest significance of the Hispanic Caucus is that more voices for the Latino community will be heard.  Additionally, our Latino elected officials are well qualified and diverse. They are not just Hispanic; they are quality public servants who will serve Nevada well. Expectations are high, but I’m not expecting us to change the world overnight.  I do expect great things from each and every one of them this session. While we all need to succeed individually we will all be there for each other.  Not only will more Hispanic legislators be involved this session, but there will also be more Hispanic members of the lobby corps and there will be more Hispanic advocates coming to lobby the legislators.”

Assemblywoman Lucy Flores:

 “We always say that Latino issues are American issues and that’s definitely the case.  A couple of distinct issues that Latinos face are language issues and immigration.  That being said, everything facing the state (education, jobs, etc.) are issues that matter to everyone, and the problem is that these issues disproportionately affect the Latino community.  In terms of education, Latinos represent a disproportionate number of drop outs.  Latinos represent a disproportionate number of teen pregnancies.  That’s where someone needs to step in and try to address these issues with a unique perspective.”

“We are a growing population segment, and that’s one of the roles that the caucus has to play.  We have to recruit the next generation of leaders and develop leaders in our community.  We are trying to get to proportionate representation.  If we have a state that’s thirty percent Hispanic, then arguably you should have a Legislature that has the same make-up.  I also find it shameful that we don’t have any Asian legislators.  We have a large Asian community in Las Vegas, and not one Asian member of the legislature.  It’s always a problem when you don’t have that diverse perspective, whether cultural or economic.  We’re not a homogeneous community, and when you don’t take all of these differences into account, you end up with bad policy.”

The Role of Charter Schools

Every year, Newsweek publishes a list of the country’s best high schools. This year’s list was accompanied by an analysis of the performance of charter schools when compared to their regular public-school counterparts. As so many others have tried to do, the piece attempts to gauge whether the national “charter experiment” is working.

Charter schools are public schools that have the freedom to try new things, from methods of teaching and instruction to the length of the school day and year. In Nevada, R&R Partners has worked with the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy charter school since its creation 10 years ago. Founded when Nevada’s charter school movement was in its relative infancy, Agassi Prep has been the poster child for the successes and challenges faced by charters. The school has also been a leader in helping to shape the state’s charter-school legislation to ensure that state laws don’t interfere with what we are all trying to accomplish – innovation and the overall improvement of all public schools.

The article refers to a study by Stanford University, which found that 37 percent of charter schools produce worse academic results than their public counterparts, and only 17 percent outperform them. In a vacuum, these results may be cause for concern. However, the author also points to the possible reason for these results: while some states have laws that make it easy to create a charter school, they fall short with respect to closing down those that shouldn’t be in business. Any charter school administrator worth his or her salt would agree that certain standards should be met in order for a school’s charter to be renewed.

It is difficult, though, if not impossible to assess the success or failure of the “charter movement” based on studies such as this one. Every charter school has its own ways of operating. Each has its own unique teachers, administrators, lesson plans, curricula and different state laws with which to comply. The very flexibility these schools are given is what makes them an incubator for other public schools – we should learn from them what works and what doesn’t, and improve all public-school education according to these lessons.