(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – An official with the Gibbons administration said today there will be a special session of the Legislature by June to repeal a Nevada law that is keeping the state from going after millions of dollars in federal funds to improve schools.
Lynn Hettrick, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Jim Gibbons, said the state law must be changed so Nevada can go after a share of the “Race to the Top” federal funds for schools. As much as $175 million could be available, he said.
Hettrick said Nevada did not apply for the first round of funding because of the current law and because the state Department of Education determined the amount of money Nevada might receive was not cost effective.
“We must change the law,” Hettrick said. “We will be eligible for round two in June.”
The Legislature in 2003 passed a law saying student achievement cannot be a factor used for teacher evaluations. This makes Nevada ineligible for the Race to the Top funds.
The Legislature is required to act to amend the law. The Nevada State Education Association has proposed language to change the law that should make the state eligible for the funds, and Hettrick said that is a good starting point for discussion.
But Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns said the governor doesn’t just want to craft a law that will make Nevada eligible for the federal funds. Gibbons wants the current law repealed, he said.
“To say you can’t use student performance to evaluate teachers is ridiculous,” Burns said. “Student performance will be an integral part of teacher evaluations because that is what is best for Nevada students.”
Whatever the resolution, an agreement will be worked out beforehand so that the session does not go on any longer than a day or two, Burns said. They are too expensive to let go longer, he said.
Hettrick said the revenue and spending problems facing the state are a separate issue that continues to be analyzed. It may take several weeks to assess whether a special session will be needed to balance the state budget, he said. If a session is needed, the law change for the education funds can be done at the same time.
“The revenue numbers are terrible,” Hettrick said. “We all know it.”
The various state agency chiefs have been asked to analyze what cuts of 1.4 percent and 3 percent would mean to their programs. No cuts have yet been made.
“The governor is asking everyone to think seriously about what these levels of cuts would mean,” he said. “What has to go away.”
The last thing the administration wants to do is cut state jobs because that will just add more people to the ranks of the unemployed, Hettrick said.
The Economic Forum, a panel of private sector appointees who make the official state revenue estimates, may be brought in for its analysis as well, he said.
“We are trying our very best to analyze how to attack this without losing jobs and minimizing the impacts to state government programs,” Hettrick said. “It is very complex.”