(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – State Sen. Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, urged a legislative panel today to push Nevada to apply in the first round of federal Race to the Top funds to improve student performance by a Jan. 19, 2010 deadline.
Even if the state is not successful in getting a competitive grant in the first round, there would be a critique of the state’s application that would assist in improving the document to win funding in the second round in June, he said.
“Those funds would help us move our state forward with much needed improvements in our K-12 education system, enhancing our children’s skills in critical fields such as science and mathematics, as well as offering more help to schools that are struggling to meet academic standards,” Horsford said. “Race to the Top also can help us buffer our education system from the effects of a protracted recession.”
Horsford made his comments to the Legislative Committee on Education, which met to get a briefing on the state’s efforts to win federal funding that could total as much as $175 million in one-time funds.
Some members of the legislative panel disagreed with Horsford, however, suggesting that waiting to apply in the second round would give the state the time to produce a better and more competitive application.
Horsford acknowledged that a one-day special legislative session would be needed to repeal a state law that now prohibits Nevada from applying for the federal funding and that only Gov. Jim Gibbons can call lawmakers to the capital.
Keith Rheault, state superintendent of public instruction, said it would be difficult for the state Department of Education and the state’s 17 school districts to prepare a competitive grant application by the January deadline.
There is no loss of funding at stake for Nevada if it misses the first round. States can apply in the first round or the second, but they cannot get funding in both rounds.
Horsford said the Legislative Committee on Education should also come up with language agreeable to all interest groups to change the Nevada law that now precludes the state from applying for the funds.
A 2003 law passed by the Nevada Legislature precludes the use of student achievement data in rating the performance of teachers which makes the state ineligible to apply for the federal Race to the Top funds.
Gibbons has said he will call a special session by June to seek repeal of the law so the state can apply for Round 2 funding.
The Nevada State Education Association has proposed an alternative that the association says would make the state eligible for the funding. The proposal would subject teacher evaluations to mandatory local collective bargaining discussions.
Joyce Haldeman, representing the Clark County School District, said the best option is to repeal the 15 words now in state law that bars the state from using student achievement to evaluate teachers. Any other alternative could put the state’s efforts to get a share of the funds at risk, she said.
Rheault said he agrees with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that the teachers’ union proposal is “not optimal” for the state to receive funding.