EDUCATION: New organization makes it convenient for parents to fight for better education in Nevada
– Staying on top of the issues that affect education can be daunting. Knowing enough to effectively take action, much less finding the time and energy to take a stand, is often more than parents with full-time jobs and other responsibilities can orchestrate.
Tired of seeing Nevada rated at the bottom of so many lists in education, three-time former Lamping Elementary PTA president and Lake Mead Council of the Nevada PTA advisor Jenn Blackhurst banded together with four like-minded women to form HOPE, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering parents in the Nevada law-making arena.
“HOPE stands for Honoring Our Public Education,” explained Blackhurst, president of the organization, which was established in 2014.
“Before I got immersed in the last legislative session,” she said, “I really had no idea what bills were up there, what I might have an opinion on, and if I did, how to even get that opinion to somebody — who to tell or what to say. That’s what we’re hoping to change.”
HOPE board members watch the education scene in Carson City and keep parents informed through plain-English email updates. They also provide a literal voice for parents by lobbying for issues during the legislative sessions.
“We give the parents tools to know how to tell what bills are coming up and to make it really easy to take action. In our legislative emails we make it so they can click a link to go to an opinion page where it’s easy to indicate whether you’re for or against an issue and write some comments, or not write some comments, but at least it lets you know how to become involved in this process.”
There are no fees for membership, though donations are welcome. Parents choose their level of involvement from simply receiving emails to participation in group operations and lobbying.
Blackhurst considers HOPE’s platform to be bipartisan.
“All we want is education in our state to improve,” said Blackhurst. “Educating our children is something that should be of concern to every person in Nevada because it affects everyone here. Our education system affects our economy, it affects our ability to draw businesses here.
“We’re not ever going to endorse any particular party or candidate. There are parents throughout the valley who are of different political parties, and we want to be able to represent all of them.”
HOPE’s current platform includes support for comprehensive, collaborative professional development for teachers, preschool options for at-risk children, all-day kindergarten for all children, new buildings to alleviate crowding and improvement to existing buildings.
Two additional platform issues that involve funding that may be particularly difficult for parents to tackle solo.
HOPE supports an upgrade from the state education funding formula established in the 60’s to a weighted system that better accounts for extra costs required to educate children with special needs, including Gifted and Talented students.
The organization is also lobbying to protect tax dollars that are collected in the name of education. Blackhurst explained the current process allows funds in excess of what the state deems necessary for education to spill over into the general fund for use elsewhere. Parents listening to the schools’ pleas for more money wonder how it is possible that extra money even exists.
Blackhurst considers this system to be flawed, saying the education budgeting method used for these decisions is based on data that inaccurately reflects actual need.
If we pass a tax based on education, we feel like that money should stay in education. It shouldn’t be used for other things. This is education tax money and we desperately need it.
“If we pass a tax based on education, we feel like that money should stay in education. It shouldn’t be used for other things. This is education tax money and we desperately need it.”
According to Blackhurst, there are lawmakers who are trying to fight for issues HOPE supports, though feedback indicates the laws often don’t get passed because of the appearance of a lack of support.
“During one of the committees we were in one of the elected officials said, ‘I go out on a limb and push for this or that, then I turn around and there’s no one behind me.’ They are asking for us to show that we have support from our parents to give them the political willpower to make these changes.
“I know sometimes people feel like it doesn’t matter what they say; nothing is going to change anyway,” said Blackhurst. “We’re trying to change that belief. It’s not true. If we get out there and get involved we can change things.” | iH
For more information about HOPE, or to register for membership, please visit hopefornevadaorg.
This article was featured on page 13 of the August 2015 issue of Inside Henderson Magazine.