Families within the Las Vegas region will now have more options when it comes to determining the future of their children’s schooling. Clark County, Nevada is home to at least six new public charter schools this school year.
This is thanks in large part to the Nevada State Public Charter Authority which approved almost 1,500 seats for charter school students back in January to open this fall. But, the biggest question surrounding the opening of new public charter schools still lingers. How can a charter school find ample facility space and funding? These two factors continue to be a challenge.
Two of the new charter schools’ opening Nevada Rise Academy, an elementary school, which will serve K-5 and Nevada Prep, a middle school, which will serve fifth through eighth grades, decided to go in together and lease space at an old church.
To further dive into the issue of charter school facilities and the ever-revolving door surrounding the process of finding and securing adequate facility space, I spoke with Justin Brecht, founder and executive director of Nevada Rise.
Q&A on charter school facilities and funding with Justin Brecht:
How many students are enrolled in your charter school?
125 for Nevada Rise, with about 120 for Nevada Prep.
What are your current plans to grow the charter school?
We started with just kindergarten and first grade. We plan to add one grade level every year until we reach fifth grade.
Nevada Rise is one of two of the new charter schools temporarily leasing space at a church near Desert Inn Road and Eastern Avenue. What was the process like securing this space?
The process entailed a search that spanned over one-and-a-half years. We constantly searched for an adequate space that met the criteria required for a school, that was also conducive to a slow-growth school. It was especially difficult to find a space that was affordable in both the short-term and long-term. We wanted to ensure the school was located in an area that would allow us to serve our target population of at-risk students. Without the resources to build a new space, we found that retro-fitting an existing building to meet code was extremely expensive and did not fit in our projected timeline. At the last moment, we found a space that served our mission.
What is the biggest barrier to finding and locking down a facility in Nevada for charter schools?
Funding, navigating the political circumstances, and the fact that Las Vegas is a relatively young—we do not have many abandoned places to house schools. Most schools are overcrowded, and the district does not necessarily work with charter schools as some other cities do.
What portion of your per-pupil operating revenue went to rent your current facility?
For the first year, it is about 15 percent, but it will increase in year two to about 20 percent.
Currently, the school operates its academic day with five classrooms—three for kindergarten students two for first-grade students. Nevada Rise has plans to continue to grow as the school population grows, hoping to one day have a permanent school facility to call home.
What assistance have you received, if any in finding a building for the new school year?
We had some partners in assisting with the initial funding and a broker that worked pro bono during our search and negotiation of the lease.
What amenities does your facility have? (i.e. gym, library etc.).
Two large rooms have allowed space for a cafeteria and auditorium. The facility also allows for ample playground space.
Both charter schools will be housed in a two-story building separated by just floors. What foreseeable challenges do feel can arise within this school space? What are the benefits?
Challenges include scheduling, growth, increased volume for arrival and dismissal, and meeting the needs of families with students in each school. Benefits include sharing certain costs, having an ally in the work and leveraging strengths of each campus to benefit the larger mission of providing quality education to all students.
In the future, what type of building would you like the school to be housed in?
One that allows us to fulfill our mission while we grow. Obviously, a building with a redesigned operational efficiency would be great, but all we ask for is security to grow. As long as it is a place to teach and learn, we do not ask for much.
Why are charter schools needed in the Las Vegas valley?
Nevada continues to rank at the bottom of most national lists concerning education—funding, salaries, proficiency rates, morale, class size, etc. Since one district encompasses all southern Nevada, choices are limited and families deserve options.
With four other new charter schools opening in and around Nevada, how you think this speaks to the community?
It demonstrates that parents continually seek options and are frustrated with a failing system.
If you could change one thing about the inequities charters schools face when trying to find a facility, what would it be?
Expedition of the process for inspection, code, approval, etc. and having the same rules private schools enjoy. There are also timeline issues in what can be purchased and when it can be purchased based on facility barriers. In our case, many operational items were delayed due to lack of knowing what we would have associated with our facility, ie., National School Lunch Program and technology.
As the school founder, what is your overall vision for the students?
The vision is for Nevada Rise to prove that all students, regardless of demographics can thrive.
What should people know about your school?
We are fiercely dedicated to the community and seek to grow a school that can be the “proof point” of possibility. We are eager to be part of the solution in Nevada. We are driven by the needs of the community, the wishes of the parents, and the promise of our scholars.
Kelsey Nelson is the Manager of Campaigns and Publications at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Learn more about the facilities challenge many charter schools face and help ensure charter schools can open their doors to students!
My daughter is a scholar here. I have seen tremendous improvement from her year in pre-k in the CCSD to now. It is really a great community of parents who want more for their children’s education. I am so glad that things got mixed up at her zoned CCSD school that made me enroll her in RISE Academy.
Tables are amazing