Rabbi Malcolm Cohen

Rabbi Malcolm Cohen

By Rabbi Malcolm Cohen

It was only when I became a parent that I truly realised the importance of finding a good school. Until that time my school quality awareness was limited to a hazy, abstract sense of anger at parents blocking the road with their traffic.

Our son was born and we lamented the lack of a Jewish primary school near us in Bounds Green. We moved to Las Vegas, at which point two Jewish schools opened around the corner from our London house.

Meanwhile, we landed in Nevada, the state with, famously, the worst public education system in the United States. As I read the appalling school inspection reports online, I was reminded of the section of the Talmud which lauded Joshua ben Gamla for setting up competent teachers in every town. It seems ben Gamla had overlooked Vegas.

This week I found myself on an early morning flight to Carson City, the Nevadan capital. Alongside fellow clergy I was lobbying for adequate levels of funding for our public schools here. Some legislators agreed, some believed the system was simply using money inefficiently. Some had made a “no new taxes” pledge to their constituents and explained gently they couldn’t help me if they wanted to, even when we rolled out the line, “But it’s for the children!”

There will probably be a compromise and some new money for schools. The anecdote that everyone trots out here is why should parents support education when they can get a good salary as a valet on the Strip?

The crux of the matter is to help people understand that education is the most effective way of reducing poverty, while poverty is the biggest obstacle to education. If you’re not familiar with Nevada, you won’t know the greatest education story. Harry Reid, until recently the majority leader in the Senate, rose from a poor upbringing in rural Nevada to be the most powerful Democrat next to Barack Obama because of his access to education. It turns out that rags-to-riches American dream still holds true once in a while.

Malcolm Cohen is a rabbi in Las Vegas