Former special ed teacher running for NV governor, Chris Giunchigliani, lifts up education

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by Félix Pérez

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Chris Giunchigliani honed her listening skills while serving as a middle school special education for 20 years. As a candidate for Nevada governor, she took those skills on the road this year as she reached out to educators, parents, school board members, business leaders and students. The result is an education plan that is grounded in the day-to-day reality of educators.

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It turns out that it’s not the first time Giunchigliani traveled across the state in search of different perspectives. “As head of my teachers’ union, I spent four years traveling around the state in my motorhome because I wanted to hear directly from teachers, support personnel, administrators, parents, students and the local community,” wrote Giunchigliani. “I visited every school in Nevada at the time except for two. I believe in the importance of listening and taking the time to really understand people’s concerns and get their input.” Giunchigliani served as president of the Nevada State Education Association.

Giunchigliani, known by friends as Chris G, unveiled her 14-page plan last week at an elementary school. Its chief highlights are:

  • Overhauling the state’s 60-year-old school funding formula,
  • Increasing per pupil funding,
  • Reducing needless testing,
  • Decreasing class sizes,
  • Requiring standards for the number of counselors and social workers in each school,
  • Removing Education Savings Accounts, or private school vouchers, from state statute in their entirety,
  • Increasing standards for charter schools,
  • Improving teacher and education support professional salaries, and
  • Expanding Early Head Start and Head Start.

Giunchigliani draws from her “firsthand, lived-it-day-in-and-day-out perspective of the challenges facing teachers, counselors, support professionals, administrators and other staff. And I know what it means for a kid to be in an overcrowded classroom with limited supplies and too much testing.”

Chris G’s likely opponent, Adam Laxalt, doubled down on vouchers in his education plan and pledged to eliminate the commerce tax, which is estimated to generate $400 million in the next two years to boost education funding.

Educators criticized Laxalt’s plan, especially as it pertains to school funding.

Ruben Murillo Jr., a special education teacher in Clark County and president of the Nevada State Education Association, said:

When it comes to properly funding Nevada schools, I am afraid that Adam Laxalt doesn’t understand basic math. Nevada’s schools are in desperate need of additional resources, but Adam Laxalt is focused only on subtraction.

Laxalt, the Nevada attorney general and a rising star in national conservative circles, would double the cap on Opportunity Scholarships, a voucher program, to $64 million every two years and expand the state’s Education Savings Accounts, another voucher program whose funding mechanism was found unconstitutional by the Nevada Supreme Court. In a previous interview, Laxalt said, “I am a supporter of Education Savings Accounts as part of my broad commitment to creating more school choice in Nevada. I am proud of the work my office did defending ESAs all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court.”

Chris G, is a longtime opponent of vouchers and was a plaintiff in a successful lawsuit against the state’s Education Savings Accounts. In 2015, Nevada became the first state to pass a law offering private school vouchers to all students in the state regardless of income, disability or other special status. The state’s Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the funding mechanism for the program, Education Savings Accounts, was unconstitutional. The legislature, which meets every two years, adjourned last year without the funding the program. In a newspaper column she wrote while the voucher program was being litigated, Chris G said ESA vouchers “take public taxpayer dollars to subsidize religious and private education,” adding:

We need to remember that private schools are not held to the same accountability and performance standards as Nevada’s public and charter schools. They don’t have to hire qualified teachers; they do not have to teach a standard curriculum; and if a private or religious school wants to reject science, they are entitled to do so by law. These schools can turn away kids who are deemed not to “fit in,” and statistics show that these are often children with disabilities, those from different cultures who may not speak English, or simply those who are behind in school.

In her 16 years in the Nevada State Assembly, Giunchigliani, currently Clark County commissioner, was a relentless advocate for public education, leading the effort to secure funding for mandatory kindergarten and reducing class sizes for special education and first through third grade. She founded the Teachers Health Trust as a local union president.

Reader Comments

  1. Spoken like the head of the teachers union all right – the biggest thing holding back our students! Our “at risk” schools here have 4th grade classes with only 16 students, and Chris G still wants to reduce class size. As a special ed teacher, her class was even smaller. Vouchers and charter schools DO work, Chris, just not for the unions! Children are out for the summer before Memorial Day, and we wonder why NV is # 50 , or 49 or 48 in education.

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