Posts Tagged ‘Rheault’

Nevada State Schools Superintendent Search Gets Under Way

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 5:17 pm September 8th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval and the state Board of Education have appointed their respective liaisons to the search effort for the next superintendent of public instruction.

Sandoval appointed Terri Janison, his director of community relations and a former president of the Clark County School Board.

The State Board of Education appointed board president Chris Wallace as its liaison. Board member Annie Wilson will serve as alternate.

Nevada State Board of Education President Chris Wallace

“I am pleased that we have been able to work together to begin the search process for the next superintendent of public instruction,” Sandoval said.  “I am confident this spirit of cooperation will continue as we move forward.”

To be qualified for the position of state superintendent, an individual must have attained the age of 21 years at the time of his or her appointment and hold a master’s degree in the field of education or school administration. Additionally, Sandoval is specifically seeking a candidate with classroom experience, a commitment to reform, experience with English language learners, and experience with large budgets and education funding formulas.

An application process and position description will be developed in the weeks ahead.

Current state Superintendent Keith Rheault’s contract runs through March 2013. He serves at the pleasure of the Board of Education.

Sandoval had made education reform as one of his priorities of the 2011 legislative session.

As part of a budget deal with legislative Democrats, Sandoval will get to appoint the state superintendent of public instruction. A newly constituted state board will also have members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, as well as four members elected by the people of Nevada. The 1o current board members are all elected.

Gibbons Wants Hearing on School Voucher Plan, Says Competition Would Improve Educational Opportunities for Children

By Sean Whaley | 11:09 am February 16th, 2010

(Updated at 12:04 p.m. on Feb. 16, 2010)

CARSON CITY – A handful of state lawmakers have tried and failed over the years to establish a voucher plan for Nevada students, giving parents a share of their taxes spent on public education so they can pick a school that best meets the needs of their children.

While other states have had some success, such measures have gone nowhere in Nevada. Two bills were introduced in the Assembly in 2009 to begin such programs. Neither bill even had a hearing.

Now Gov. Jim Gibbons has taken up the issue, making a school voucher program a central piece of his education reform plan. Gibbons, in his state of the state address Feb. 8, asked lawmakers to give his plan a hearing at the special session set to begin Feb. 23. It also includes a repeal of mandates for all-day kindergarten and class-size reduction and a repeal of the state’s collective bargaining law.

“I believe that we need to give the choice of education back to parents and get them involved,” he said after the speech. “We have 142 schools in the state of Nevada that are rated as the worst schools in the nation.”

Gibbons said parents of students attending these schools should have the choice to go elsewhere.

“I believe that vouchers give that choice to parents,” he said.

A school voucher proposal was not part of Gibbons’ proclamation issued today calling for the special session. Robin Reedy, chief of staff to Gibbons, said the intent is to get the budget shortfall and flexibility issues dealt with first.

“We fully intend on amending the proclamation between now and sine die (the end of the session),” Reedy said.

A school voucher measure will be one of those amendments, she said.

The five-page bill creating the “educational scholarship” as now written would not result in an immediate savings to the state budget, said Stacy Woodbury, deputy chief of staff to Gibbons.

The plan remains a work in progress, with the Gibbons Administration analyzing how best to make the vouchers available. They could be given to parents to give to the school of their choice, which would then be turned into the Department of Education for reimbursement, or given directly to parents.

In an interview last week, Gibbons said that is still being analyzed to determine the best approach to ensure the program is constitutional.

“I have no preference for whether a voucher goes to school or to a parent,” Gibbons said. “If the constitution will allow for it, I’m happy to send it directly to parents.”

Woodbury said the proposal would provide 75 percent of the local school district’s pupil support to the private school.

If tuition was less than 75 percent of the support, then the lower amount that would be provided, Woodbury said. If the cost of the school program was more than 75 percent of the support, the parents would have to make up the difference. The other 25 percent of the pupil support would remain with the local school district.

Private schools would have to be licensed by the state Department of Education to participate, she said. Those private schools that are not licensed would be ineligible. There are about 75 so called “exempt,” or non-licensed schools, operating in Nevada right now.

Licensed schools must use licensed teachers and follow other requirements. Students would have to pass the high school proficiency exam to earn a diploma.

Woodbury said under the governor’s plan, religious schools would not automatically be prohibited from participating. If a religious-based school spent 25 percent of its time on religious instruction, then it could be argued the 75 percent state support would go to the academic instruction portion of the curriculum, she said.

The Gibbons administration believes the proposal is constitutional under the Nevada State Constitution, Woodbury said.

Carson City attorney Scott Scherer, a former state lawmaker who worked on one of the voucher proposals introduced in 2009, said Nevada does not have a lot of case law on the issue, so predicting how the Nevada Supreme Court would rule on such a program is difficult to predict.

But one key element in withstanding a legal challenge is ensuring that only schools that are true educational institutions and that have the appropriate curriculum can participate, he said. Schools that offer a primarily religious education should not be included, Scherer said.

“I think if it is a legitimate educational institution meeting the needs of students to prepare them to graduate from high school and go on to college, then a religious affiliation would not prohibit a school from participating,” he said.

Not everyone agrees.

Article 11, Section 10 of the Nevada constitution is a provision called a Blaine Amendment dating back to statehood, which prohibits the expenditure of public funds on “sectarian purposes.”

Courts have rejected voucher school programs in other states because of these Blaine Amendments.

Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the ACLU of Nevada, said a reading of the state constitution suggests there is no way a voucher plan in any form would withstand a legal challenge.

“We at the ACLU cannot imagine a voucher program that gives direct taxpayer funding to secular institutions that can in anyway comport without our constitutional prohibition on using public money for religious purposes,” she said.

Rowland said the prohibition “creates a very real hurdle for anyone trying to institute a voucher program in Nevada.”

People have a right to attend religious schools, just not with public funds, she said.

The Institute for Justice, a civil liberties and public interest law firm, disagrees with the ACLU interpretation. In its analysis of Nevada law, the organization says there are no recent court rulings or attorney general opinions addressing the issue.

“Although Nevada’s Legislature passed a law requiring that money allotted for public schools be used exclusively for public schools, NRS 387.045, other public money – general revenues or lottery proceeds, for instance – could support a voucher program,” the institute says in its analysis.

Andrew Campanella, a spokesman for the Alliance for School Choice, took issue with the ACLU interpretation of the Nevada constitution, saying the organization, “is taking liberties with the state’s constitution in their attempt to deny parents the opportunity to choose the best schools for their kids.”

“It is not surprising, given the ACLU has fought tooth and nail to deny deserving children the opportunity to achieve their own American dreams,” he said.

Woodbury said that if a voucher plan is approved by the Legislature, it would take some time to implement. The state Board of Education would need time to prepare for the new program, and so it might not get under way until the fall of 2011. While access to private schools might be limited at first, establishing the voucher program would allow for new schools to become licensed and offer educational opportunities, she said.

The same process happened with charter schools, she said. When the law first passed in 1997, it took awhile for the schools to be established. There are now 28 such schools operating in Nevada, according to the Department of Education.

There are about 422,000 students in the Nevada public school system now.

Many states have offered vouchers to select groups of students, such as special needs, Woodbury said.

“I say any child should be eligible,” she said.

“I commend the governor and his staff for bringing this forward,” said Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley. “For people who truly care about educating our children, they talk about getting parents involved. What better way to get parents involved than to give them choice.”

Goedhart, who proposed one of the school choice bills in the 2009 session that did not get a hearing, said a voucher program has not moved forward in Nevada because the politically powerful educational establishment enjoys its monopoly.

But offering competition would be best for Nevada’s children, and could even reduce the need to build new public schools, he said.

“We have to embrace innovative approaches to education, and one of those is vouchers,” Goedhart said.

While there may be room for a discussion on the issue, a special session of the Legislature that has to address an $881 million budget shortfall is not the time or place, said Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.

“We’re open to just about anything that will get us through this budget crisis,” he said.

But Oceguera said is unrealistic to think the Legislature could consider such a major policy shift given the state’s pressing fiscal crisis.

Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, said he too does not believe the special session is the time to take up such an issue, although new ideas are always worth a look.

“We’ve got other things on our plate,” he said. “I am a big proponent of public education based on the success me and my family has had with the system, but I do believe we should be looking at new and innovative programs.”

Gibbons disagrees, saying in an op/ed piece Jan. 8 that a special session is the right time to consider education reform.

“Clearly legislators have not had time in their regular 120 day sessions every other year to address education reform. What better time to focus on reform than in a special session where topics are limited to a very few items?” Gibbons asked.

Woodbury said that since the governor has the exclusive authority to set the agenda for a special session, the Legislature should be prepared to review his education reform plan later this month.

“If they do not consider his plan, he may call them back in again, yes,” she said.

Goedhart also said the special session is the appropriate place for such a discussion. By putting it on his agenda, Gibbons and school voucher supporters will get a chance to see where lawmakers stand.

“The voters, residents and citizens of Nevada will finally get to see how lawmakers are voting on such a crucial issue,” he said.

Keith Rheault, state superintendent of public instruction, said any shift to private schools would be slow because of the limited availability. There are about 96 licensed private schools in Nevada now.

The licensed private schools are serving just under about 9,000 students statewide.

But Rheault said most of these schools offer only kindergarten or elementary grade level programs, and several school districts have no such schools operating as all.

“Most are in Clark and Washoe,” Rheault said. “Only eight districts statewide have private licensed schools.”

Rheault said from his agency’s perspective, the challenge of a voucher plan would be ensuring accountability. The state would need to verify the student enrolled in the school and attended, he said.

State Senate Majority Leader Urges Nevada Officials To Immediately Seek Federal Funds to Improve Nevada Schools

By Sean Whaley | 1:18 pm December 11th, 2009

CARSON CITY – State Sen. Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, urged a legislative panel today to push Nevada to apply in the first round of federal Race to the Top funds to improve student performance by a Jan. 19, 2010 deadline.

Even if the state is not successful in getting a competitive grant in the first round, there would be a critique of the state’s application that would assist in improving the document to win funding in the second round in June, he said.

“Those funds would help us move our state forward with much needed improvements in our K-12 education system, enhancing our children’s skills in critical fields such as science and mathematics, as well as offering more help to schools that are struggling to meet academic standards,” Horsford said. “Race to the Top also can help us buffer our education system from the effects of a protracted recession.”

Horsford made his comments to the Legislative Committee on Education, which met to get a briefing on the state’s efforts to win federal funding that could total as much as $175 million in one-time funds.

Some members of the legislative panel disagreed with Horsford, however, suggesting that waiting to apply in the second round would give the state the time to produce a better and more competitive application.

Horsford acknowledged that a one-day special legislative session would be needed to repeal a state law that now prohibits Nevada from applying for the federal funding and that only Gov. Jim Gibbons can call lawmakers to the capital.

Keith Rheault, state superintendent of public instruction, said it would be difficult for the state Department of Education and the state’s 17 school districts to prepare a competitive grant application by the January deadline.

There is no loss of funding at stake for Nevada if it misses the first round. States can apply in the first round or the second, but they cannot get funding in both rounds.

Horsford said the Legislative Committee on Education should also come up with language agreeable to all interest groups to change the Nevada law that now precludes the state from applying for the funds.

A 2003 law passed by the Nevada Legislature precludes the use of student achievement data in rating the performance of teachers which makes the state ineligible to apply for the federal Race to the Top funds.

Gibbons has said he will call a special session by June to seek repeal of the law so the state can apply for Round 2 funding.

The Nevada State Education Association has proposed an alternative that the association says would make the state eligible for the funding. The proposal would subject teacher evaluations to mandatory local collective bargaining discussions.

Joyce Haldeman, representing the Clark County School District, said the best option is to repeal the 15 words now in state law that bars the state from using student achievement to evaluate teachers. Any other alternative could put the state’s efforts to get a share of the funds at risk, she said.

Rheault said he agrees with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that the teachers’ union proposal is “not optimal” for the state to receive funding.

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.