Las Vegas Sun

August 21, 2014

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Guinn’s plan for failing schools launched

CARSON CITY -- Gov. Kenny Guinn's plan to help the failing or near-failing schools in Nevada took its first step forward in the Nevada Legislature Monday.

Keith Rheault, state superintendent of public instruction, told the Senate Finance Committee that 94 of the 337 elementary schools in Nevada are on the failing list and another 99 are on the "watch list."

The Senate Finance Committee Monday voted 5-0 for Senate Bill 404 that creates the Commission on Educational Excellence that would dole out $50 million in each of the next two years to schools that not meeting the standards.

Rheault said the bill will allow the commission to monitor whether the schools make adequate progress as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said he "enthusiastically" supported the Guinn plan and said the attention is correctly focused on grades 1-6. The $50 million a year "probably doesn't go a long way with that many schools," he said.

The $50 million a year is included in Guinn's budget and still must be approved by the Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

But SB404 sets the framework for how the system will work.

As amended, the bill creates a nine-member commission that includes two principals and two teachers from schools that have shown improvement in test scores. This commission would set the guidelines on how the schools could apply for the money. The commission would judge each plan for improvement and then award the grant. It would also judge if the school made progress.

Raggio said, "We have thrown money (at schools) and achieved some limited success."

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, wondered if the money allocated to schools could be used for all-day kindergarten. Democrats are pushing for all-day kindergarten in all the schools.

Rheault said it could if the school put that in its improvement plan.

Raggio said "I don't support full-day kindergarten for the entire state. It's not the best use of funds."

He said he has seen schools rise from a low standard of achievement to a high level.

Titus and Sens. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, and Bernice Mathews, D-Reno, questioned creating another commission to handle the job.

Titus said one problem is there has been too much administration in the schools and not enough money going to the classrooms. Cegavske said she had "heartburn" over the bill because there are five other commissions dealing with the schools.

Raggio said this commission "would serve an entirely different function."

It would be able to make recommendation to the school district, such as changing the principal, if the school is not bringing its test scores up to par, Rheault said.

Outside the hearing, Rheault said the new test results should be out in a month or two. He said he expected 12 schools to come off the "must improve" category. But he said there could be 30 schools added to the list.

The commission, in addition to the two school principals and two schoolteachers, would have two district administrators, a parent, the state superintendent of public instruction and a representative of the program that trains teachers.

Cegavske declined to vote on the bill, saying she wanted more time to study it. Mathews said she reserved the right to vote against it when it reaches the floor, probably late this week or early next week. Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, was absent.

Raggio said he did not know how the bill would be received in the Assembly, assuming it passes the Senate.

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