CARSON CITY — Nevada’s primary education system would change dramatically under the proposals Gov. Brian Sandoval delivered tonight in his State of the State address.
He would use student achievement data to evaluate educators, provide merit pay for effective teachers and end extra pay for longevity and advanced degree attainment.
Sandoval would also eliminate full-day kindergarten, class size reduction, early childhood education and the gifted program, among other programs. The catch, however, is a proposal to allot school district “block grants” through which districts could choose the programs they want to fund.
“I believe we have put too many constraints on local school districts,” Sandoval said. “If one district chooses to continue class size reduction, so be it. If another district wants to pursue other programs, we will no longer hold them back. Flexibility, local autonomy and accountability are keys.”
Districts may not be able to continue all programs, though, because the governor’s budget reduces support for these programs by $18.7 million. Total support per pupil drops $270 to $4,918 per pupil, 5.2 percent from the 2011 fiscal year.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, sent out a press release specifically criticizing the governor’s education proposals. “Tonight Gov. Sandoval offered a budget that would gut public education – and our kid’s futures as a result,” he wrote. “This budget would dismantle public education. I will not accept a budget plan that extinguishes all hope for a new Nevada built on better schools.”
The Nevada teachers union also criticized the block grants proposal. Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said the governor should not lay out a “menu” of options for services because it offers parents no reassurance of what kind of programs will be available to their children.
“What he’s proposing, we have no idea whether that will help promote student achievement,” she said.
The governor, however, has long held that local governments, those closest to their constituents, best know how to deliver services.
“I’m not going to tell local governments what to do,” he said at a press conference following his speech. “Those are decisions that are better made at the local level.”
At his State of the State address, the governor hosted the controversial former chancellor of the Washington D.C. public school system, Michelle Rhee.
“There seemed to be a lot of overlaps and synergies between the things that the governor wanted to focus on in education,” she said. “We’re convinced now that he’s ready to take this on and we want to make sure we’re marshaling the resources to make sure he’s successful.”
As chancellor, Rhee promoted teacher evaluation systems and promoted merit pay.
She said that her organization, Students First, will be in Nevada as resource for legislators, parents and those interested in school reform.
Sandoval has also proposed a statutory change to allow school districts to sweep $425 million out of reserves slotted for debt obligations and into their general operating budgets.
Such a move would mitigate the governor’s proposed budget cuts, but would be a one-time fix.
Freeing up that money would help mitigate losses in the Local School Support Tax and decreased returns from property taxes. Together these represent a decrease of $440.8 million in local funds for K-12 education.
The governor has also proposed a bill to eliminate district’s minimum textbook expenditure requirement. The governor’s plan drew criticism immediately after he released them, but he’s done one thing his antagonists have not: propose an alternate solution.
“I think we have put together an extremely reasonable and flexible budget that recognizes the needs but also recognizes that there are some sacrifices that have to be made,” he said. “My cards are on the table. I’ve put forward a plan.”