Posts Tagged ‘Department of Education’

Jobs, Support Of Middle Class Focus Of Spirited Senate Debate Between Heller, Berkley

By Sean Whaley | 2:10 pm September 28th, 2012

CARSON CITY – It took all of about ten minutes for Sen. Dean Heller and Rep Shelley Berkley to mix it up in their first debate in the U.S. Senate race Thursday, criticizing each other on campaign issues ranging from ethics to Medicare to big oil subsidies.

The hour-long debate on KNPB-TV in Reno was the first chance for many voters to see the two candidates spar on the issues, most of which have already been the focus of campaign attacks in the race to date.

Heller, the Republican appointed to the seat last year, and Berkley, a seven-term Democrat Congresswoman representing the 1st District, will debate twice more before election day on Nov. 6.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.

Heller criticized Berkley for supporting big government bailouts and sequestration, a process which could see massive cuts in military and domestic spending, called the “fiscal cliff,” beginning in January if Congress cannot reach agreement on how to reduce spending. He also commented on the ethics issues that are dogging her through the campaign.

Berkley went after Heller for supporting tax breaks for big oil and for supporting a plan by Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan to change the Medicare program for younger Americans when they retire in the years to come.

Heller’s alleged ‘hobos’ remark starts the back-and-forth

One of the first questions to provoke Heller was in reference to his alleged comment in Elko in February of 2010 when unemployment benefits were being extended. He supposedly asked if by continuing the program that “the government is now creating hobos.”

“This is the most difficult part of an election; that is proving something that you didn’t do or say,” Heller said in response to the question. “And in this case this is something that I did not do and something that I did not say. Let’s be very specific. I did not say that.”

Berkley used the opportunity to try to align Heller with Mitt Romney’s controversial comments about 47 percent of Americans being dependent on the federal government.

Heller has disavowed Romney’s comments.

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

Did Heller say that the government is creating hobos?

Yes, according to the Elko Daily Free Press, which reported his comments as: “Heller said the current economic downturn and policies may bring back the hobos of the Great Depression, people who wandered the country taking odd jobs.

“He said a study found that people who are out of work longer than two years have only a 50 percent chance of getting back into the workforce. ‘I believe there should be a federal safety net,’ Heller said, but he questioned the wisdom of extending unemployment benefits yet again to a total of 24 months, which Congress is doing. ‘Is the government now creating hobos?’ ”

But the Heller campaign, in a statement released during the debate, said: “Dean Heller never called unemployed individuals hobos. Then-Congressman Heller was referring to a presentation made by Lawrence B. Lindsey, former Director of the National Economic Council at the White House, before the Republican Members of the House Ways and Means Committee.”

The statement cited a number of times Heller voted to extend unemployment insurance during his career in Congress.

Debate moves to who is a bigger supporter of the middle class

Heller used the opportunity to question Berkley’s claims that she supports the middle class.

“She’s bailed out Detroit, she’s bailed out Wall Street, you name it she’s bailed out everybody time and time again,” he said. “And the question is when are you going to bail out the middle class. What are you going to do for the middle class. You continue to support big bailouts.”

Berkley cited five votes Heller has made “to protect tax breaks for corporations that ship American jobs overseas.”

The Heller campaign pointed to Berkley’s vote in July to extend tax breaks for all but those earning over $250,000 a year. Eliminating those tax breaks “could cost Nevada 6,000 jobs and more than 900,000 nationwide,” the statement said.

Berkley voted for an energy tax, opposed the Keystone Pipeline which will mean the oil gets shipped to China, and supported the Affordable Care Act, Heller said.

Berkley has supported energy tax breaks in Congress, but those breaks have focused on alternative energy development. She introduced the  “Clean Energy Jobs Act,” which would extend a 30 percent tax credit for domestic companies that manufacture products used in clean energy projects such as wind turbines and solar panels.

Heller too said he supports renewable energy development, including some federal support.

Berkley’s ethics investigation initiates another round of discussion

Berkley, who is the subject of a House ethics investigation over whether her support of a kidney transplant program in Southern Nevada benefited her physician husband, was asked about the charges. The investigation is under way and is not expected to be resolved before the election.

Berkley did not respond directly to the question, saying only that her only motive was to help Nevadans. Instead she used the opportunity to again attack Heller for voting for big oil subsidies.

Heller said “character matters,” and called Berkley’s ethics issues “a pattern” that existed prior to her being elected to Congress in 1998.

Heller was referring to a memo Berkley wrote to her then-Las Vegas Sands Inc. boss Sheldon Adelson about needing to do favors to local elected officials to get favorable treatment. The memo was made public in 1998.

The Berkley campaign has called the memo old news and not a factor in her election to Congress.

“I think character does matter, and you know what’s important to the people of the state of Nevada? Who’s going to protect them. Who is going to be fighting for them in the U.S. Senate,” Berkley said in the debate. “The middle income families, who’s working for them, who’s making sure that we get people to go back to work.”

Questions about who supports Medicare take center stage

The candidates also debated the future of Medicare, and Heller’s two votes for changing the program to a voucher plan for those under age 55.

Heller said Berkley’s vote for the health care act meant taking $700 billion from Medicare.

“She needs to quit stealing,” from Medicare, he said.

Berkley said moving Medicare to private insurance companies will cost Nevadans more, and “put private insurance company bureaucrats in-between doctors and their patients.”

Berkley said she did not cut money out of Medicare benefits, but instead voted to eliminate over-payments to insurance companies.

Does Heller want to eliminate the Department of Education?

Another issue that provoked a dispute between the candidates is whether Heller has in fact called for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education.

Heller said he does not support closing the agency, but that it should be downsized to provide more money directly to local school districts.

The Berkley campaign argues that Heller has called for the elimination of the agency.

The Pahrump Valley Times reported: “Heller singled out the U.S. Department of Education for elimination. ‘Just to give you an idea of how they decide how Pahrump Valley High School should be run, we have 3,500 people back in Washington D.C. in the Department of Education that average more than $100,000 per year per person. Now you can’t tell me you can’t take that money, move it to the states and be able to teach better, giving it to the teachers, the principals and the parents.’ ”


Audio clips:

Sen. Dean Heller says he did not make “hobos” remark:

092812Heller1 :10 not say that.”

Heller says Shelley Berkley has voted to bailout big business, not the middle class:

092812Heller2 :12 support big bailouts.”

Rep. Shelly Berkley says Heller supports big business and shipping jobs overseas:

092812Berkley1 :10 their tax subsidies.”

Berkley says the question is who is going to fight for the middle class in the U.S. Senate:

092812Berkley2 :14 back to work.”


Panel Recommends $4 Million In State Funding In Next Budget To Move Forward With Student Tracking System

By Sean Whaley | 2:12 pm July 31st, 2012

CARSON CITY – A state panel charged with implementing a system to track individual student performance from preschool through entry into the workforce is recommending that $4 million in state funds be appropriated by Gov. Brian Sandoval and the 2013 Legislature to help accomplish the task.

The P-16 Council, led by chairwoman and state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, finalized its recommendations to Sandoval on Monday, proposing the funding to ensure the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) project moves forward in the next two-year budget.

“Everybody’s really been doing a yeoman’s job, I mean really working hard to get the information that we need to continue on,” she said. “I think the governor is going to be very pleased. I’ll be anxious for his review as well.

“So we’re really excited to be able to move on with this,” Cegavske said. “And we’re going to be like other states. It took a lot of people a long time to put theirs together and we’re not going to be any different. But I’m very hopeful that all entities will join and we’ll be able to get this done in a reasonable amount of time.”

State Sen. Barbara Cegavske.

Sandoval issued an Executive Order  on Oct. 7, 2011 asking the council to take the necessary steps to create the system to track students, following the lead of other states as part of an effort to reform education and improve student performance in Nevada.

The effort got a boost in June when the Nevada Department of Education was awarded a $4 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to develop the SLDS. Nevada was one of 24 states to receive funding to support the design and implementation of its tracking system.

The three-year grant will create and assign a Unique State Personal Identifier so that students, teachers and those in the workforce can be followed from pre-school through grade 12, into post-secondary education and on into the workforce.

The grant will also be used to fund an in-depth technical needs assessment at the state Department of Education, the Nevada System of Higher Education and the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation to determine solutions for implementing the enhanced SLDS. The assessment is expected to be completed by June 2013.

But the P-16 Council, in its report, said that state funding will be needed to accomplish the solutions identified in the assessment. In addition, funding will be needed to incorporate early childhood data into the SLDS – a project that is not included within the grant.

As a result, the council made the funding recommendation to support the next steps of the SLDS project and sustain it beyond the grant funding.

The council made no recommendations on data polices, such as which data elements will be shared and how, or how privacy will be protected, saying such decisions are premature until the needs assessment is completed.

In introductory remarks to the council in November 2011, Sandoval said he wants Nevada to create a data system that will put it on a par with states that have successfully accomplished the task, including Florida, Maine, Connecticut and Washington. The information, including performance measures of educators, is critical to moving Nevada forward in student achievement, he said.

A new panel, called the Teachers and Leaders Council, was created as a result of legislation passed in the 2011 session, Sandoval said. It is charged with developing a statewide performance evaluation system for administrators and classroom teachers. Half of the evaluation must be based on student data, which is why the charge to the P-16 Council is so important, he said.

“This is a historical moment, this is really a crossroads in the state of Nevada and we have some great opportunities to really improve the delivery of education in this state,” Sandoval said.

The Department of Education has already created a student data system, but it is not as comprehensive as required for Sandoval’s education reform efforts.

A national report showed that Nevada made progress in this data collection effort in 2011. The Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC) seventh annual state analysis, Data for Action 2011, shows that states have made major progress building their student data systems. More states than ever – 36, up from zero in 2005, including Nevada – have implemented all of DQC’s 10 Essential Elements of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems.


Audio clips:

P-16 Council Chairwoman Barbara Cegavske says the members of the panel worked hard to finalize the report:

073112Cegavske1 :10 be very pleased.”

Cegavske says Nevada hopefully will soon have a quality student data tracking system:

073112Cegavske2 :23 amount of time.”



Audit Finds Over $2M in Questionable Purchases and Spending in State Education Department Program

By Sean Whaley | 1:49 pm November 5th, 2009
CARSON CITY – An audit of a $92 million grant program created to improve student achievement in the public schools has identified numerous concerns, from inappropriate purchases to purchases that were made prior to approval by the Nevada Department of Education.

The innovation and prevention of remediation program was created by the 2005 Legislature, and the legislative audit reviewed the first two years of funding in Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007.

The audit, reviewed today by the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee, found $580,000 in expenditures by schools and school districts that were not authorized by a panel created to review the grant requests. One example was the Clark County School District’s purchase in 2006 of a $200,000 educational software program, a type of purchase specifically not authorized by the review panel, the Commission on Educational Excellence. No payback was sought by the department.

The audit also found $5.1 million in grant funds spent by schools and school districts prior to receiving approval for the expenditures from the commission.

In some cases, items rejected by the commission were amended back into grants by schools and school districts and subsequently received funding.

Schools also did not return unused funds in a timely manner, resulting in $45,000 in lost interest earnings that could have been earned by the Department of Education. Returned money also was not always deposited timely by the Education Department. In one case, the Washoe County School District returned $735,000 in unspent funds in August 2007, but the check was not deposited by the agency until December 2007.

The audit also determined that there was inadequate tracking of purchased items. Auditors could not find 6 percent of the items sought out in the review worth $170,000.

Other issues were also identified in the 47-page audit.

The audit covered the first two years of the program when $81 million of the fund was spent by school districts and schools over two years. The program was continued in the last budget, but no funding was appropriated for the program in the current budget.

Keith Rheault, superintendent of public instruction for the Education Department, acknowledged the many issues cited in the audit. Sixteen recommendations from auditors were accepted by the agency to fix the concerns if funding is provided again in future budgets by the Legislature.

Rheault told the legislative panel many of the problems occurred in the first round of funding due to the rush to get the money to the schools. Many of the concerns were corrected in the 2008 and 2009 funding cycle, he said.

In his official response to the audit, Rheault also noted that no additional staffing was provided to handle the new grant program. A request for additional positions in the 2007 legislative session was not funded.