Most School Districts Seek Class-Size Waiver

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More than half of Nevada's 17 school districts have sought waivers of mandatory primary school class size limits, and state educators blamed state lawmakers for failing to give schools enough money.

"We are perpetuating a state of denial," Nevada Board of Education President Gary Waters said. "We say class size reduction is important, but then the waivers negate all of that."

Thirteen districts have sought waivers, and Keith Rheault, acting state school superintendent, said administrators can't refuse.

"We can't say no to the waivers because we understand the constraints the districts are facing," Rheault told the Las Vegas Sun. "If the ratio were changed to 16-to-1, at least it would consistent with the funding levels."

He referred to the 2003 state budget, which provided funding for a 16-to-1 pupil-to-teacher ratio in first and second grades, and 19-to-1 in third grade.

The class size law does not address grades above third, but school officials in Clark County, including Las Vegas, said the average last year was 30 students per teacher in higher grades.

Waters said the Legislature has never given school districts enough money to comply with a law passed in 1989 requiring no more than 15 students per teacher in kindergarten through third grade.

Rheault said that when the law was written, lawmakers didn't expect the state to grow at 5 or 6 percent for 15 years.

"As funding has gotten tighter those class sizes have been gradually inching up," he said.

Even if the law were changed, the fast-growing Clark County School District would not comply this year. The average kindergarten class in the Las Vegas-area district has 24.4 students, and first and second grades have 16.5 students. Third grade classes average 19.9 students.

Because of difficulty finding qualified teachers, the state lets rural school districts raise class sizes to 22 students for every teacher in grades one through five.

That law was changed after the Elko County School District sought a waiver to switch to the 22-to-1 ratio, and then reported improved test scores and student achievement.

Attempts by some legislators and educators to extend that provision to Clark and Washoe counties have been unsuccessful.

"We've tried session after session to bring some flexibility to the process instead of a fixed regimen," said state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas.

The Nevada State Education Association opposes larger class sizes, said Debbie Cahill, government relations director for the teachers union.