U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan paid Reno a visit Wednesday, holding a town hall meeting at the University of Nevada.
Reno was the third stop on the first day of the cross-country Education Drives America bus tour. The secretary and his staff will hold meetings across the nation to discuss ways to improve the public education system. In Reno, he encouraged Nevadans to make sure funding ends up in the right place.
"Teachers are underpaid," Duncan said during the Q&A session. "We need to value our teachers in a very different way."
Duncan fielded questions from the audience on federal grants, funding for the arts, increasing college enrollment among Hispanics, and growing programs for career and technical education.
"We are investing $2 billion in community colleges, where real training is leading to real jobs," Duncan said.
Real jobs are the goal. Duncan said there is an undeniable link between education and employment, and that the market for good jobs without some form of higher education is shrinking. That is why he said it's more important than ever to make college more affordable and to improve the public school system.
Duncan said one of those improvements is offering the states a waiver to the No Child Left Behind law. Nevada is one of 33 states to receive a waiver for NCLB, which Duncan said will help pump up graduation rates and college attendance.
"I think it's a big step in the right direction," Duncan said. "I really congratulate the state for having the courage to step up. I just think No Child Left Behind is fundamentally broken."
But the responsibility doesn't just fall on federal legislation. Duncan places a lot of it on each individual state and school.
"We are trying to step up and hold ourselves accountable," Duncan said, "but we need states to step up. We talked about 40 states cutting funding. We need universities to be more creative and keep costs down, and become more efficient."
Duncan cited the statistics, saying that the United States just isn't as competitive on the global market as it used to be. He said we are currently 14th in the world for college graduation rates, when we used to be first, and 25 percent of our high school students are dropping out.
"We have to get better, faster than ever before," Duncan said. "We want to be a better partner with the states and the districts. We think that's where the best ideas in education are."
The Education Drives America bus tour continues with a stop at Great Basin College in Elko Thursday, and it wraps up in Washington, DC on the 21st.