Having lived in Winnemucca for the past 18 years, one thing is clear: Nevadans are proud of who they are and where they come from. Many of my friends can trace their roots back to the original settlers in the valleys throughout Humboldt County. As with our forefathers, today we hope to see the mountains turn white with snow to provide the necessary water to sustain us during the coming summer months.

Just as vital as water is to the ranching and farming needs of our friends, our students are in need of a quality education to provide the foundation for long-term success and prosperity. Unfortunately, in Nevada, just as the various ranches and farms struggle with a lack of water, our schools struggle to meet the growing needs and expectations essential to supporting our students.

A successful education setting is one that is beneficial to all students and not just a few students. As a collective group of the 17 superintendents in Nevada, we have begun the process of defining an agenda to support education in preparation for the upcoming 2019 Legislative Session. One critical aspect that must be understood is that the days in which simply earning a high school diploma to be successful are largely gone.

Jobs that our students are preparing to enter will be tied to STEAM based initiatives. STEAM stands for: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. For each of these areas, the ability to solve “real world” problems will be the growing expectation. These foundational skills include the ability to engage in the inquiry process, demonstrate logical reasoning, collaboration and investigation.

In 2008, the effect of the economic collapse was devastating to Nevada. As revenue streams from tourism, sales and construction disappeared, families and businesses felt the effects. Education, largely funded through taxes, was subject to significant reductions which we have yet to emerge from. As a result of this impact, public education funding has fallen further behind in comparison to national averages for education funding.

Recently, Education Week provided a grade ranking for all the states based on set criteria. Nevada scored last among the 50 states and Washington D.C., with a letter grade of D. Our D ranking is the sixth year in a row for this designation and places us in the same category as New Mexico. States such as Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma are higher with a score of D+.

However, of the criteria used to judge Nevada’s educational prowess, seven areas are outside educational control, including family income, parent education, parent employment, parent language, adult educational attainment, annual income and steady employment. If the seven areas out of our control were taken out of consideration, Nevada would have ranked in the mid-30s nationally.

In terms of school financing, Nevada ranked 49th with an adjusted per-pupil expenditure of slightly higher than $8,000 versus the national average of approximately $12,000. Despite being near-last in education funding, Nevada saw growth in academic performance coming in five points lower than the national average of 71. Though we still have much work to do, we are seeing progress in areas that we are able to directly impact.

As we consider the needs of Nevada, a frequent conversation is in the ability that we have to recruit new business into our economy. One critical factor considered by prospective businesses is the quality of the students coming from secondary and post-secondary institutions to fill the positions they would create. Without a marketable workforce, companies have no incentive to relocate.

In support of a prosperous Nevada, the 17 superintendents are working on a document referred to as iNVest. As we continue to work on completion, we are beginning to engage with state lawmakers, potential gubernatorial candidates, and other interested parties to defined the key elements necessary to move Nevada forward.

Over the past two legislative sessions, we have seen strong support of educational initiatives, yet there remains much that needs to be done. Reaching the national average may not be possible in the short term, but in the long term, if we collectively make specific investments we can move the state forward. As we look to build a strong and prosperous Nevada, now is the time to consider key initiatives to support public education.

Dr. Jensen is superintendent of Humboldt County School District. He can be reached at (775) 623-8218 or at djensen@hcsdnv.com.