* The following presentation was made to the Legislative Committee on Education on Thursday:
(Stacy M. Woodbury) – Last Friday, as I was in this room listening to the presentations of speakers at the Legislative Committee on Education, I received an e-mail newsletter from the U.S. Department of Education with the following quote from Secretary of Education Duncan from a December 10, 2009 speech at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Fall Forum:
“Today, I’m calling on state lawmakers to rethink and rewrite the hundreds of pages of state code that limit the ability of school districts to succeed in promoting student learning, especially in our lowest-performing schools. I urge you to do the tough work of addressing the grossly inequitable distribution of resources that now prevails in a number of states and districts. And, I urge you to build the capacity of districts to challenge the status quo and implement far-reaching reforms to dramatically improve education…. Ultimately, when it comes to…state laws, our guiding principles should be straightforward: does a law advance student learning and do what’s right for kids?”
As in my telephone conversation with Secretary Duncan earlier that week, I was struck by his commitment to education and to doing what is right for our kids. As I communicated to Secretary Duncan last week, I bring a similar message from Governor Gibbons today.
And, I know that all of us in this room share Governor Gibbons’ sentiment. A law that prohibits the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations is not only wrong for Nevada, it is not the legacy Nevadans want for their children and for our future.
Our K-12 education system is brimming with talented and dedicated teachers, teachers who have struggled through 25 years of surging enrollment to educate our children and future state leaders. Now that we have a respite in climbing enrollment, Nevada policy makers are in a unique place to address quality in our K-12 education system.
If we want to improve the quality of our K-12 education system, we need to start first with teacher accountability. Our teachers must lead their students by example, so that our children learn that being graded on your performance is the right path to educational excellence and future self-sufficiency.
Governor Gibbons respectfully disagrees with the testimony of Senator Horsford before this committee last week. Senator Horsford stated that Nevada applying for Race to the Top funds is not a big enough priority, and if application is not made in Phase I by January 19, 2010, the end result would be procrastination and a lost opportunity.
Governor Gibbons supports the concepts voiced last week by Assemblywoman April Mastroluca and Assemblyman Lynn Stewart. Namely, that Nevada needs to “put its best foot forward” when applying for Race to the Top funding, and that it would be “premature” to submit an application for the January 19, 2010 Phase I deadline.
Again, as I was listening to testimony in this Committee last Friday, I received another e-mail from the U.S. Department of Education which stated that 34 states had submitted letters of intent to apply for Phase I Race to the Top funding, and that the deadline to submit such letters of intent had passed.
In the Phase I Peer Review process, all applications will be reviewed and critiqued and published by the U.S. Department of Education. As Assemblywoman Mastroluca noted last Friday, Nevada will be in a good position to review the ideas and proposals submitted by other states and to use the peer review process to craft a comprehensive and thoughtful application for Race to the Top.
The reality is, of the 34 states that will apply for Phase I Race to the Top, only a handful will be awarded grants in Phase I. Like Nevada, most states are simply not ready. This means the majority of Race to the Top funds will be awarded in Phase II. As Governor Gibbons has noted, Nevada does not lose any funding or grant opportunities by being cautious and thoughtful in its application process.
Governor Gibbons is not alone in his position that Nevada is in the midst of an unprecedented economic downturn. Because of this unique situation, Governor Gibbons last week issued an Executive Order calling on the Nevada Economic Forum to convene and report to him a revised forecast of Nevada’s major revenues no later than January 19, 2010. With major state revenues continuing to decline in double digit figures, it is not rocket science to ascertain that Nevada will end the current fiscal year several hundred million dollars under its legislatively appropriated budget unless SOMETHING is done.
Governor Gibbons will wait until after the Economic Forum meets and revises the forecast of major revenues to set forth his plan for dealing with Nevada’s economic situation, and then will call one special session to deal with all of the important issues currently facing Nevada – both in the area of education and applying for Race to the Top funds, as well as in necessary adjustments to biennial agency budgets and other issues relating to the State of Nevada’s precarious fiscal situation.
With the current state revenue trends, it is not prudent to bill the taxpayers of Nevada for potentially two special sessions of the Nevada Legislature, when all necessary business can be included in a single special session well in advance of the June 1, 2010 Phase II Race to the Top deadline.
Again, Nevada will not miss out on any funding or any opportunity to apply for Race to the Top. The program consists of a single grant award. Nevada is not ready for Phase I. Phase II presents the best opportunity for Nevada to make a comprehensive, thoughtful, quality application for the Race to the Top Program.
I have reviewed today’s agenda and see that under agenda item IV, Senator Horsford intends to introduce a proposal to establish a Race to the Top Task Force. Although Governor Gibbons has not been provided with a copy of that proposal, the concept has merit. Governor Gibbons hopes that any such proposal would include major stakeholders, including the Governor’s office. The Governor would also like to participate by bringing appointments to the task force, to ensure the greatest number of stakeholders are involved.
Although we have not been provided with any specific language, the Governor’s office understands that the proposed statutory repeal language being considered by this Legislative Committee includes both repealing existing statutory language, but also stipulating two things: 1) that student test scores cannot be the sole criterion used in teacher evaluation; and 2) that student test scores cannot be used for the purposes of teacher discipline.
Governor Gibbons strongly supports the first concept: student test scores should not and must not be the sole criterion for teacher evaluation. However, Governor Gibbons cannot support the contention that it must not be used in disciplinary action.
Governor Gibbons believes this is in contravention of federal law and regulations which apply to underachieving schools and remedial actions for same. Governor Gibbons must side with Secretary of Education Duncan on this issue. We need to do what is best for Nevada schools and children. Underperforming schools must be held accountable for student performance, from the school administration to the classroom teacher.
Governor Gibbons’ position is consistent with the Nevada Association of School Boards and the Nevada Association of School Superintendents.
Governor Gibbons has, is and will work with the Nevada State Board of Education, the Nevada State Department of Education and local school districts to ensure that Nevada has a thorough, accurate, and competitive application for Race to the Top by the June 1, 2010 deadline for Phase II funding.
Governor Gibbons has committed to convening a special session of the Nevada Legislature well in advance of the June 1, 2010 deadline for Phase II Race to the Top to address any necessary statutory changes which bar Nevada from participating in this grant competition.
Governor Gibbons is the responsible authority, under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, to apply for Race to the Top funds on behalf of the State of Nevada. Governor Gibbons intends to work with the Nevada State Board of Education, the Nevada Department of Education, and any and all other interested parties to submit a competitive, worthy application to benefit all Nevada students and our K-12 education system.
(Stacy M. Woodbury is Deputy Chief of Staff to Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons)