Building a ‘New Nevada’ With the Help of Successful Advocacy

Last week, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed into law Senate Bill 511, which establishes the Teach Nevada scholarship for students interested in completing PK-12 educator preparation programs throughout the state. Sponsored by Governor Sandoval and passed by the State Assembly on the last day of the 2015 session of the Nevada legislature, this bill devotes $2.5 million to student scholarships in each year of the coming biennium. An additional appropriation of $5 million per fiscal year provides funding for Nevada districts to provide financial incentives for new teacher hires.

The College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) is a proud supporter of this bill and submitted a letter of support that was read into the record during the bill’s initial hearing. It was our pleasure to back this progressive measure, which will ultimately assist high-achieving students in their pursuit of educator licensure. Students will be able to apply for up to $24,000 in scholarship funding to support completion of a degree program or alternative-route program that leads to teacher licensure. In return, they are expected to remain employed as a teacher at a public school in Nevada for at least 5 consecutive years. Governor Sandoval’s budget and sponsored legislation, built in collaboration with State Superintendent Dale Erquiaga, was incredibly supportive of education. We look forward to playing a role in building a new, education-focused Nevada, together.

The College of Education at UNR is dedicated to pursuing excellence in educator preparation and houses the only NCATE-accredited licensure programs in the state of Nevada. We anticipate that this piece of legislation will make it possible for more students to obtain their degrees from one of our exemplary programs, including our Integrated Elementary Teaching Program and Nevada Teach, our replication of the UTeach model of secondary educator preparation in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

We had several opportunities to visit the legislature during its 2015 session. UNR faculty provided expert testimony on topics ranging from adolescent life sentences to Common Core mathematics, and our College of Education leadership testified against a bill to abolish the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards as well as testifying in support of the Teach Nevada scholarship bill.

It is wise for college of education leaders to keep apprised of relevant bills being heard in their respective states and to remain active participants in the democratic process. Being responsive to requests for testimony often leads to positive outcomes, including positive exposure of programs to state leaders.

Being viewed as a collaborator and leader in the state is a powerful method of effecting change. It is only through doing the hard work of collaboration within our states, on both sides of the aisle, that colleges of education can begin to effectively shift perception on educator preparation and rightfully place ourselves in the conversation on education reforms.

Melissa M. Burnham is associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno. She serves as director of Teacher Education and Human Development and is also incoming associate dean. She is also president of the Nevada Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and president of the Commission on Professional Standards in Education for the state of Nevada.

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Melissa M. Burnham

University of Nevada, Reno