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September 21, 2014

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Education:

State lawmakers to draft bill to qualify for federal grant

State must allow using test scores to evaluate teachers to qualify for ‘Race to the Top’ money

To put itself back in the running for as much $175 million in federal education dollars, Nevada must quickly change state law.

The Legislative Committee on Education will meet Thursday to discuss how to get the Silver State back in the “Race to the Top,” the competitive grant program offering $4.35 billion for innovation and reform. Nevada’s potential share was estimated at between $60 and $175 million.

To compete for money states must, among other qualifying criteria, allow the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers. During a special legislative session in 2003, Nevada lawmakers passed a last-minute bill that explicitly prohibited using test data in teacher evaluations.

Gov. Jim Gibbons has said he would put the issue on the agenda if he calls a special session of the Legislature to deal with other issues, including the swelling shortfall in state funding.

Thursday’s meeting will focus on what Nevada needs to do to qualify for the “Race to the Top,” including changing the statute.

The goal is to develop a bill draft that will be ready to go as soon as the expected special session convenes, said state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Hen., the committee’s chair.

Despite the fact that a similar attempt to revise the law failed during the recent regular legislative session, Woodhouse said she’s hopeful that a compromise will be reached.

The Nevada State Education Association says it doesn’t oppose using assessment data to help improve student achievement, and is working on a bill draft that would change the law to comply with the “Race to the Top” requirements. But it would also make the specifics of the teacher evaluation process subject to collective bargaining.

There are concerns among school districts that the NSEA’s proposal could “conceivably limit their ability to discipline teachers,” said Woodhouse, a retired Clark County School District educator. “We’re going to have to deal with that issue, but the first step is making sure we can qualify for the federal funds.”

The Legislative Committee on Education will meet at 9 a.m. in Carson City, with videoconferencing to the Grant Sawyer State Office Building in Las Vegas. The meetings can also be viewed online via the Nevada Legislature’s Web site at www.leg.state.nv.us.

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