Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2014

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Nevada eliminated from education grant competition

Nevada was eliminated Tuesday from consideration for "Race to the Top" education grants, losing out on competing for up to $160 million in federal funding under a program designed to spur innovation in public schools.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia were named finalists in the second round of the school reform grant competition, giving them a chance to win a share of $3 billion.

In a written statement, Gov. Jim Gibbons said that while he is disappointed, the application process spurred a coordinated review of Nevada's education system.

"We appreciate the opportunity the Race to the Top competition gave us to take a long, hard and much overdue look at educating Nevada's children," said Gibbons, a one-term governor who lost in the Republican June primary. "The time is now to modernize the way we deliver education in our schools."

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., blamed Gibbons for Nevada's elimination.

"While governors from other states were aggressively working to pass new reform laws and position their states to take advantage of these important funds, our governor was satisfied with only meeting the minimum requirement to file our application," Reid said in a statement.

Gibbons fired back at Reid, who is in a re-election battle for a fifth term against Republican Sharron Angle.

"Once again, Harry Reid has failed Nevada," Gibbons said in a terse news release. "Reid has never lifted a finger to help us while we applied for these special federal funds for education. Harry Reid was asleep at the switch again when teachers, parents, children and families of Nevada needed his help."

State legislators, during a special session in February, amended a statute removing 15 words that had banned student test scores from being used in teacher evaluations. That provision had made Nevada the only state ineligible even to apply.

Lawmakers, at the urging of the teachers union, inserted 31 new words clarifying that test scores can't be used as the "sole criteria" in teacher evaluations or disciplinary actions.

Critics feared the new language could jeopardize the state's chances of receiving the grant money, and Gov. Jim Gibbons threatened to veto, but eventually signed, the legislation.

Gibbons also formed a 29-member task force, co-chaired by Las Vegas casino executive Elaine Wynn and Nevada higher education Chancellor Dan Klaich, to coordinate the state's application. A consultant was also hired, for $40,000, to complete Nevada's application that was submitted in late May.

Wynn said the task force "produced more reform in six months than we have seen in the last decade."

She called the recommendations "not only a blueprint for education reform in the state, but also a call to action for the continued support of all sectors in implementing this agenda."

Finalists for the second round of grants are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

Two states, Tennessee and Delaware, were awarded a total of $600 million in the first round of the competition.