Posts Tagged ‘vouchers’

Candidates For State Education Board Seat Bring Diverse Backgrounds To Race

By Sean Whaley | 9:21 am May 25th, 2012

CARSON CITY – With education reform a top priority of Gov. Brian Sandoval, the new alignment of the state Board of Education – with four seats up for grabs on the November ballot – is taking on more importance than ever before.

One of the four seats, District 2 which mirrors the new Nevada 2nd Congressional District from Reno and Carson City east across rural Nevada, has attracted five candidates, two of whom are serving now on the 10-member elected board. The race is nonpartisan.

Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association; Scott Carey, a planner for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe; Donna Clontz, a retired teacher and juvenile justice expert; Dave Cook, a member of the board and charter school math teacher; and Adriana Guzman Fralick, a member of the board and attorney with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, are all on the June 12 primary ballot.

The top two vote getters will move on to the general election in November.

Since taking office in 2011, Sandoval has made education reform a priority of his administration. A number of reforms, including reconstituting the state board, were approved in the 2011 legislative session.

Photo courtesy of FEMA via Wikimedia Commons.

He also recently appointed a new superintendent of public instruction, James Guthrie, who formerly served as the senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas.

Sandoval plans in 2013 to pursue a number of additional reforms, including ending social promotion and fostering school choice through charter school expansion and some form of voucher program that is still in development.

The new board will play an expanded role in the reform effort. In addition to four elected candidates, Sandoval will appoint three members, one of his choice and one each nominated by the Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker. There will also be four nonvoting members.

Ray Bacon brings an employer perspective to race

Bacon, who has advocated for education reform for more than 25 years, said he entered the race as a candidate coming from the perspective of the business sector.

“There are two primary focuses in the education picture,” he said. “They (are) the students, which should be first and foremost No.1, and then the second constituency is employers, which are routinely ignored by the education system.”

Employers need a voice on the board, Bacon said.

The key is not job oriented education, but providing students with a strong set of basic skills in writing, reading, math and science, he said. The reality is there will be job opportunities in the future that aren’t even on the radar yet, Bacon said.

“If their basic skills are really solid, and really foundational, and they pay attention, they have the skill set to move into those jobs,” Bacon said. “If they’re lacking in those basics, they can’t make the transition.”

The reforms passed in the last session were a major step forward, but more remains to be done, he said.

Bacon said he has concerns with the use of binding arbitration in school district negotiations with teachers and other employees. A recent arbitration decision in Clark County in favor of teachers could lead to hundreds of teacher layoffs. The arbitrators always seem to be from out of state and lack the knowledge of Nevada’s public education funding scheme, he said. Arbitrators should come from Nevada, he said.

There should also be a requirement that teacher contracts comply with state law, Bacon said. The Clark County layoffs will be based on who was last hired, which conflicts with legislation passed in 2011 making seniority not the only basis for such decisions, he said.

As to school choice, Bacon said he would start with students in under-performing schools, giving them an edge to enroll elsewhere, including charter schools.

Scott Carey says an educated workforce is critical to economic diversification

Carey, who grew up in Sparks and took advantage of the Gov. Kenny Guinn Millennium Scholarship, said he wants to focus on improving public education as a way to help with Nevada’s economic diversification efforts

“I see kind of the biggest thing holding back our state to diversifying our economy is education,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to get jobs to relocate here and open up new operations if our schools continue to be in the condition that they are and our graduation rate remains the way it is.”

Nevada needs a skilled workforce to drive innovation and expand the economy, Carey said.

The new board will play a big role in education reform, he said. The state’s last in the nation graduation rate is unacceptable, he said.

“And I’m willing to look at new ideas that can help improve that graduation rate,” Carey said. “I think a lot of the partisan politics that sometimes get played in Carson City do more harm than they do good. If elected to the Board of Education I would take a look at solutions from both sides of the aisle and see what we can do to help improve education.”

Carey said he supports expanded school choice, including the potential use of vouchers, as long as they don’t take financial resources away from what he said are already “vastly underfunded” public schools.

Donna Clontz says she wants to bring her experiences with childhood issues to bear at the state board

“I decided to run for the State Board of Education because I see it in a very important leadership role for policy for all of our 17 school districts and I don’t believe it really has filled that role in the past,” Clontz said.

The board can and should serve in an outspoken leadership role on behalf of all students to make education and quality schools the state’s number one priority, she said.

Clontz started her career as an elementary school teacher, then went to night law school to become an attorney. She then went to work as a prosecutor in the California juvenile justice system. Her next career was on the staff of the National School Safety Center, getting an education on school safety issues, from bullying to weapons, all of which are still issues today.

Those experiences make her well qualified to serve on the board, she said.

“Everybody who plays a role, I think, could be engaged in a strategic planning process where we would all work together to get that change of attitude that I think it’s going to take in Nevada for all of us to say that schools are the most important thing that we can work on to bring our state back, our economy back, to create the jobs we need, to have young people that are trained and ready to go to work in those jobs,” Clontz said. “We’re perched on the edge of some great things.”

She supports ending social promotion for elementary school students and the development of quality charter schools but opposes vouchers. Vouchers have been tried elsewhere without success and Nevada has too many other education issues to address, Clontz said.

Dave Cook says he will pursue Gov. Sandoval’s reforms if returned to the board

Cook said one of the keys to improving education is to use effective testing to measure progress.

“We need to effectively assess students,” he said. “At the same time, we need to do less testing overall. So we need to do testing that is going to be beneficial for making decisions about students.”

Assessing students at the beginning and end of the school year helps prevent a number of problems and can help determine if a student should be promoted, Cook said.

“And most of our problems happen because language and mathematics aren’t being effectively handled in the elementary grades,” he said. “By the time we discover them in middle school, the damage is already done.”

Such testing also provides the opportunity to measure teacher performance because it assesses how far each student has come during the year, Cook said.

Cook, who previously served on the Carson City School Board before being elected to the state Board of Education, said he is a big supporter of quality charter schools. Between 2008 and now, the attitude toward charter schools has improved dramatically and the schools are playing a big role in education reform, he said.

Cook said he supports the concept of vouchers as well, although full implementation might require an incremental approach. Any voucher program would have to carry an accountability element with it to ensure tax dollars are being spent efficiently, he said.

Cook said being a licensed math teacher gives him an added dimension to serve on the board.

Adriana Fralick says her time on the board gives her the background to move forward on reforms  

Fralick said she is on board with the education reforms already achieved by Sandoval and his plans going forward.

“I believe in charter schools and I think now with the new (Charter School) authority I think there is a chance of expanding that and streamlining it so I think that is going to be something very positive,” she said.

She also supports vouchers, saying parents should be able to choose their child’s school.

“Implementing a fair state-based voucher system will give parents and students a vested interest in the child’s education and stimulate parental involvement – an important factor in student success,” she said on her website.

Fralick said she is concerned about the potential for changes to the Nevada Plan, which outlines how public schools are funded in Nevada. A legislative panel is now reviewing the state’s public education funding plan at the request of the Clark County School District.

Fralick was appointed to the board in November 2010 by then-Gov. Jim Gibbons to fill out the term of Ken McKenna, who resigned. During the past 18 months, Fralick said she was on a learning curve. Now that she has the background, it is time to move forward with policies to improve Nevada’s education system.

“I’ve been on the board, not too long, but long enough to where I see what needs changing or what works,” Fralick said. “So I think that is one of my strengths, I can hit the ground running.”

Another strength Fralick said is her work as a public agency attorney for many years. Regulations sometimes have unintended consequences, so a legal background can help to prevent such occurrences, she said.


Audio clips

Ray Bacon says employers have been ignored by the education system:

052512Bacon1 :16 the education system.”

Bacon says students need to master the fundamentals:

052512Bacon2 :18 make the transition.”

Scott Carey says a quality educational system is key to economic diversification:

052512Carey1 :22 way it is.”

Carey says he will work with all policy makers to improve the public education system:

052512Carey2 :25 help improve education.”

Donna Clontz says the board can play a major role in education reform:

052512Clontz1 :15 in the past.”

Clontz says Nevada has to focus on a quality public education system:

052512Clontz2 :33 in those jobs.”

Dave Cook says effective testing is needed to measure education reform efforts:

052512Cook1 :29 not be promoted.”

Cook says students need a strong foundation in the early elementary grades to succeed:

052512Cook2 :17 is already done.”

Adriana Fralick says she supports charter school expansion:

052512Fralick1 :14 something very positive.”

Fralick says she can hit the ground running if elected to the board:

052512Fralick2 :15 the ground running.”


School Choice Limited But Expanding In Nevada As National Event Highlights Need For More Options

By Sean Whaley | 9:41 am January 22nd, 2012

CARSON CITY – As National School Choice Week gets under way today state officials say Nevada school children have more opportunities than ever before to choose a school that works best for them.

But one element of choice, a school voucher program, remains an unrealized and divisive issue for the state’s policy makers.

Successes include a strong charter school law that is helping make the semi-autonomous schools available to more Nevada students, expanding distance learning programs, home-schooling opportunities and the ability in the state’s largest school district for open enrollment, Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a Friday interview.

Another positive are the career and technical academies in the Clark County School District that allow students to focus on specific vocational programs, from aeronautics to fashion design, he said.

“They are remarkable,” Sandoval said. “That is a big component of choice in Clark County that is very popular.”

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Senate Education Committee in the 2011 session, also points to the state’s charter and magnet schools as examples of choice in Nevada.

“So I think we have a lot of great choices there,” he said. “We also have some decent laws on home schooling. Some parents want to have that ability to home school their kids but maybe they can’t provide sports or music so now they have that opportunity with some of the things that we’ve changed. So I definitely think it is important for parents to have some choices and options.”

National School Choice Week focuses on need for options

National School Choice Week – a series of hundreds of events shining a spotlight on the need for better educational options for children, kicked off in New Orleans on Saturday and runs through Jan. 28.

Sandoval issued a proclamation last week declaring National School Choice Week in Nevada while visiting a new charter school in Fallon. The Oasis Academy just finished its first semester with 120 students and has a waiting list, he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval. / Nevada News Bureau.

Supporters of National School Choice Week believe that children and families deserve increased access to great public schools, public charter schools, virtual schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

School vouchers remain controversial in Nevada

But Nevada does not have a voucher program where parents could use taxpayer dollars to help pay to send their children to private schools. Efforts by Sandoval and state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, to move in that direction in the 2011 legislative session were unsuccessful.

“I think the time has come for our state to move forward with regard to school choice and see how it works,” Sandoval said. “I think it would be extremely popular. I think there is a huge appetite amongst parents to have this opportunity.

“Competition is good,” he said. “And at the end of the day, the beneficiary is going to be the kids. And my goal is for every child to have quality education (and) a great teacher in every classroom every day.”

Sandoval said he supports a voucher program with means testing and will pursue the idea again in 2013, but the approach may change based on legal rulings on such programs around the country. Providing funding to parents instead of private schools, for example, might allow Nevada to avoid the constitutional prohibition on using public funds for “sectarian purposes.”

A handful of states offer voucher programs.

Another option is giving corporations that provide scholarships to parents for private school would get tax breaks, a program used in Florida.

Many Nevada lawmakers and members of the education establishment remain strongly opposed, however, to a voucher program.

Denis said the state needs to do more for its public education system before even contemplating the idea of a voucher program.

“If we were doing everything we could for public education then I would be willing to look at that issue in the future,” he said. “But we underfund education. You want to make sure the field is level.

“We’ve got some challenges but we’ve made some great changes in our reforms, and I think we’ll continue to do that,” Denis said. “But as far as the voucher stuff, I don’t think that there is support for that.”

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, also opposes the idea of vouchers, saying there are quite a few other options for parents.

“The courts and the constitution say there should not be the commingling of public funds for that purpose and so we are opposed to vouchers,” she said. “We believe it undermines the public school system whether it is a charter school receiving state funding or a traditional public school receiving state funding. It takes money away from the system.”

It undermines the free education for all concept the country was founded on, Warne said.

Another component of choice, the open enrollment option in the Clark County School District, has a ways to go before it is a real option for many students.

Keith Rheault, Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction, said open enrollment is limited from a practical standpoint because of a lack of space at many schools to accept students from outside their attendance areas.

“Even though there is more flexibility, the choice probably isn’t as much as you think,” Rheault said.

School choice opportunities have expanded in Nevada

Nevada now has 31 charter schools serving about 8,000 students. Nevada’s passed its first charter school law in 1997. Nevada’s ranking among the states just improved to 20th from 23rd based on a national report issued last week by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Overall charter school enrollment now exceeds that of many of Nevada’s rural school districts.

The primary reason for the improved ranking was the 2011 Legislature’s adoption of Senate Bill 212, which created a new entity to focus exclusively on reviewing and approving charter schools in Nevada, a measure welcomed by Sandoval in his education reform efforts.

Sandoval said he has asked Steve Canavero, director of the new State Charter School Authority to review the states at the top of the rankings to see what more the state can and should do to promote the creation of the schools.

The state also has 174 private schools with just under 14,000 students enrolled. But Rheault said enrollment in private schools has been flat in recent years, due in part to the tough economy and the inability of parents to afford the tuition.

Rheault said distance learning, offered to some extent by the school districts and particularly in charter schools, is growing quickly in Nevada.

“The Nevada Virtual Academy, for example, I think started in 2007 with about 400 students, and they are strictly a distance ed school,” Rheault said. “I think they are over 2,000 students this year. We probably have over 5,000 or 6,000 students being educated just by distance education programs.”

But the option exercised by most parents is to send their children to the public school system run by locally elected boards in each of the 17 counties. For the most part, children attend the school they are zoned for by each district.

Public school enrollment was projected to total just under 422,000 this year.

National School Choice Week comes at a busy time for education reform in Nevada

On Tuesday, a panel of Nevada state lawmakers will begin looking at news ways of funding public education. And on Thursday, the state Board of Education is expected to receive the names of six finalists for the state’s top public education job. The names of three finalists will be forwarded to Sandoval for the position of state superintendent of public instruction, an appointment he has said is one of the most important he will make as governor.

The 2011 Legislature changed state law to allow the governor to pick the schools chief. Until now, the state Board of Education picked the superintendent.

The state is also pursuing a waiver to allow for flexibility in implementing the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Sandoval supports the move, which is expected to allow the state to tailor the requirements of the law to meet Nevada’s unique characteristics.


Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he will bring the voucher bill again in 2013:

012212Sandoval1 :37 state of Nevada.”

Sandoval says the time has come to move forward with school choice:

012212Sandoval2 :31 school choice bill.”

Sandoval says competition among public and private schools will benefit the kids:

012212Sandoval3 :17 classroom every day.”

State Sen. Mo Denis says Nevada offers parents a lot of school choices:

012212Denis1 :25 and some options.”

Denis says the state needs to fund public education before considering vouchers:

012212Denis2 :18 field is level.”

NSEA President Lynn Warne says the courts oppose vouchers:

012212Warne1 :30 choice of theirs.”

Warne says vouchers undermine the concept of a free public education for all:

012212Warne2 :22 was founded on.”


Many Proposals To Amend Nevada Constitution, Including School Vouchers, Fail To Advance In Legislature

By Sean Whaley | 2:05 pm April 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Efforts in the Legislature to amend Nevada’s constitution failed for the most part to move forward today as a deadline hit to get measures passed out of committee.

Measures creating a lottery, repealing the minimum wage and allowing tax dollars to be spent on religious schools all failed to advance.

One of the most significant failures came on the issue of vouchers for religious schools. Two measures, including one introduced by Gov. Brian Sandoval, did not make it out of committee by the deadline.

Sandoval has advocated for the change to allow for the use of tax dollars by parents to send their children to private schools, including religious schools. The state constitution currently bans the use of tax money for sectarian purposes. His measure would have clarified that using tax money to educate children in religious schools would not violate this prohibition.

But Sandoval’s proposal, Assembly Joint Resolution 8, did not even get a hearing in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee by the deadline.

Senate Joint Resolution 10, a separate measure by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, had a hearing Tuesday but never came up for a vote in the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. It would also have amended the constitution to allow tax dollars to be spent on the education of children in religious schools.

While a number of parents spoke in support of his measure, public school officials and the state teachers union were opposed.

Roberson said he appreciated the Democrat-controlled Senate holding a hearing on his proposal, but was not surprised that it did not come up for a vote.

“The Democratic Party is in the majority, and so many of these folks, their core supporters are the public sector unions,” he said. “They’re being asked to hear legislation and vote for legislation that one of their core constituencies is vehemently opposed to.

“Frankly I think it is shameful that they won’t even consider a vote in the committee on SJR10,” Roberson said. “But they are in the majority and that is their prerogative.”

Roberson said the discussion of school choice will not go away. If Republicans can win another seat in the state Senate in 2012 they will be in the majority, and proposals such as school vouchers will be brought forward again.

“So this is the opening salvo,” he said. “We’re not finished by a long shot.”

Amending the state constitution is not an easy task. Any legislative proposal to change it requires passage in two consecutive sessions, then a vote by the public. So if any pass this session, they will have to be approved by lawmakers again in 2013 and then approved by the voters in 2014 before they could take effect.

Most of the proposed amendments failed to survive the deadline.

A proposal to establish a lottery in Nevada to fund education failed to advance. The proposal has come up in numerous legislative sessions over the years but has never been successful.

Also failing to win a committee vote was a proposal from Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, to repeal Nevada’s minimum wage law.

At a hearing earlier this session, Hardy argued Nevada’s law, which sets the minimum wage at typically one dollar above the federal level, has reduced hiring by restaurants and other businesses that rely on unskilled workers.

The measure was criticized by labor representatives who argued Nevada voters approved the current law and the Legislature should not attempt to override the will of the people.

A few of the proposed constitutional amendments remain alive, including Senate Joint Resolution 15, which would remove the separate tax rate and assessment method established for Nevada’s mining industry. The proposal was given a waiver from the deadline by lawmakers.

If ultimately approved, it would allow the Legislature to set new tax rates for the industry, which has been the focus of some lawmakers this session looking for additional revenue to help fund the operation of state government and education.

Another measure sought by Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to impose an unfunded mandate on local governments, is exempted and so remains alive. The idea was embraced by local government officials at a hearing earlier this week.

Lee said the time involved in getting an amendment to the constitution approved should give lawmakers and the executive branch enough time to get the state’s finances in order before it could take effect.

“We owe them the responsibility of running a good state,” he said.

Also still active is Assembly Joint Resolution 2, which would provide for annual sessions of the Nevada Legislature. The Legislature now meets every two years.

Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says he is not surprised his measure did not come up for a vote:

041511Roberson1 :09 public sector unions.”

Roberson says core Democrat supporters are opposed to school vouchers:

041511Roberson2 :12 vehemently opposed to.”

Roberson says the debate over school choice is far from over:

041511Roberson3 :06 a long shot.”

Roberson says it is shameful the committee did not hold a vote on his measure:

041511Roberson4 :13 that’s their prerogative.”

Sen. John Lee says the time involved in getting his constitutional amendment approved will give the state time to get its finances in order:

041511Lee :10 own personal finances.”

Senate Panel Hears Proposal To Move Nevada Toward School Choice

By Sean Whaley | 8:24 pm April 12th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A proposed amendment to the Nevada constitution to allow a future Legislature to create a school voucher program so parents could get state funding to send their children to private schools, including religious schools, was heard by a Senate panel today.

Senate Joint Resolution 10, if ultimately approved by Nevada voters, would not create a school voucher program. Instead, it would clarify that using public funds to educate children at religious schools would not violate a constitutional prohibition on using tax dollars for a sectarian purpose.

The legislation, sought by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, would make it clear in the state constitution that a voucher program including religious schools would not violate Nevada’s Blaine Amendment dating back more than 140 years, which prohibits the expenditure of public funds for “sectarian purposes.”

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

The Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections took testimony on the measure, the first voucher school proposal to get a hearing in the 2011 legislative session. The hearing featured testimony from several well-spoken children in Las Vegas asking members of the committee to support the legislation.

Roberson said Nevada’s Blaine amendment dates back to the 19th century and is a relic of anti-Catholic bigotry from that time.

“Blaine amendments were passed as a direct result of the nativist, anti-Catholic bigotry that was a recurring theme in American politics during the 19th and early 20th century,” he said. “SJR10 would simply give the people of Nevada the opportunity to decide at the ballot whether the current Blaine amendment is good policy for 21st century Nevada.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval is seeking the same constitutional change in support of a school voucher program. The governor’s proposal, Assembly Joint Resolution 8, has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, spoke in support of SJR10, but said also the governor would pursue a hearing on AJR8 as well. AJR8 contains the same language as Roberson’s bill, but also includes a section describing how the voucher program would work.

The language in AJR8 would allow a parent to send a child to private school and receive in exchange at least half of the funding that the public school would have received if the child had attended public school. The remaining half would be made available based on financial need.

Erquiaga said there are currently 18 voucher programs operating in 12 states.

“I think you all know by now this governor supports school choice and school vouchers as part of that program,” he said.

The proposal, which was not immediately acted on by the panel, saw opposition testimony as well.

Craig Stevens, representing the Nevada State Education Association, said private schools can and should exist, but they are private to keep government regulation out of their classrooms. Why should a private school receive tax money if it is not going to be accountable to the taxpayers, he asked.

Nevada has choice, with magnet schools and charter schools, but they are all public schools that are accountable to taxpayers, Stevens said.

Also testifying in opposition was Allen Lichtenstein, a Las Vegas attorney representing the ACLU of Nevada, who said in his prepared remarks: “SJR10 attempts to do away with the wisdom of the early founders of our state, and a mechanism used to insure religious harmony for well over the past century, for a new scheme that in the name of furthering education, is, in fact, designed to aid religion with our tax money.”

Joyce Haldeman, representing the Clark County School District, said the district’s school board is in opposition as well.

In his testimony, Roberson said the proposal would not create a voucher program. If it was approved by the Legislature in two sessions and then by the voters, it would clear the way for lawmakers to craft a school choice program that would allow tax funds to be spent at religious schools, he said.

Roberson said if created, a voucher program would improve public schools by making them more competitive. School choice does not drain funding from public schools either, he said. States and cities that have school choice programs have increased per pupil spending, Roberson said.

Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says the prohibition on spending tax dollars on religious schools in Nevada dates back to 19th century religious bigotry:

041211Roberson1 :11 early 20th century.”

Roberson says his proposal would let voters decide if this prohibition should be repealed:

041211Roberson2 :12 21st century Nevada.”

Roberson says his proposal would not immediately create a school voucher program:

041211Roberson3 :23 existing federal law.”

Roberson says school choice programs don’t financially harm existing public schools:

041211Roberson4 :08 the program began.”

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Sandoval says the governor supports school choice:

041211Erquiaga :18 of that program.”


Gov. Sandoval To Pursue Constitutional Change For School Choice

By Sean Whaley | 2:02 pm January 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval will seek a constitutional amendment in the upcoming session of the Nevada Legislature to allow for public tax dollars to be used in a school voucher program that would include religious schools, a staff member said this week.

Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga, in a briefing with the media on Thursday, said a voucher bill submitted by former Gov. Jim Gibbons will be rewritten by the Sandoval administration. Sandoval intends to pursue the constitutional change, he said.

Changing the Nevada constitution is a complex process that would take as many as six years to accomplish, including voter approval.

“We will carry a voucher bill, . . . but our voucher bill will be a proposed constitutional amendment,” Erquiaga said. “We think the voucher program ought to cover all schools and they way they’ve done it, proposed to do it, would not be quite as comprehensive.”

Erquiaga did not elaborate on Sandoval’s school voucher plan.

There is currently a provision in the Nevada constitution that prohibits using public tax dollars for religious purposes.

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 for “sectarian purposes.”

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

Repealing the Blaine Amendment would require the Legislature to pass Sandoval’s proposal in two consecutive legislative sessions and then have it go to a vote of the people, which could not occur before 2014.

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 got a hearing.

Gibbons tried without success in the 2010 special legislative session to get a hearing on a school voucher proposal that would have changed state law, not the constitution, and so not have required a vote of the people.

The proposal would have provided 75 percent of the local school district’s pupil support to licensed private schools, with no automatic exclusion for religious schools. The constitutional prohibition was to be avoided by a determination of the amount of religious instruction. If a religious-based school spent 25 percent or less of its time on religious instruction, then it would be argued the 75 percent state support would go to the academic instruction portion of the curriculum.

Critics were skeptical that such a law would withstand a legal challenge.

But the measure submitted by Gibbons prior to leaving office, Senate Bill 71, would exclude “faith-based” private schools from participating in the voucher program.

Erquiaga said Sandoval also will address the collective bargaining issue in his state-of-the-state address on Jan. 24, but he will not call for the complete elimination of the law as proposed by the out-going Gibbons administration in Senate Bill 41.

There is another collective bargaining reform bill, Senate Bill 78, requested by the City of Reno, that seeks reforms to the collective bargaining process, Erquiaga said.


Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says a school voucher plan including religious schools is part of the governor’s 2011 agenda:

011411Erquiaga1 :08 quite as comprehensive.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval will propose a constitutional amendment so religious schools can be included:

011411Erquiaga2 :08 proposed constitutional amendment.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval will seek reforms to Nevada’s collective bargaining law, but will not seek complete repeal:

011411Erquiaga3 :16 elimination of it.”

GOP Governor Candidate Brian Sandoval Releases Education Plan, Calls For End To Tenure And Social Promotion

By Sean Whaley | 11:59 am June 30th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Republican governor candidate Brian Sandoval yesterday released his education plan, calling it a results oriented proposal that would end teacher tenure and the social promotion of students.

The former federal judge, who stepped down from a lifetime appointment to run for governor, also said his plan would be paid for with existing revenues and that no teacher layoffs would be required.

“The education system in Nevada does not measure up and is not providing all our children with the world class education they deserve,” Sandoval said.  “With our graduation rates the lowest in the nation, it’s time to get serious about reform and challenge the status quo.”

The state teacher’s union called several elements of the plan, such as vouchers and the elimination of tenure, a rehash of old ideas pushed by outgoing Gov. Jim Gibbons that are not supported by research. The union has endorsed Democrat candidate Rory Reid for governor.

A spokesman for Reid said Sandoval’s plan borrows from Reid’s EDGE education plan released in March with the addition of vouchers, which Reid does not support.

In his nine-page plan, Sandoval said the current performance evaluation system for teachers and principals is out-of-date and rewards endurance over performance. With recent changes to Nevada law requiring the use of student achievement data in evaluations, Sandoval said there is an opportunity “to modernize the entire system in ways that reward the best, inspire the average to improve, and dismiss those who are failing.”

Sandoval said his plan will require a majority of teacher and principal evaluations to be based on student achievement. Salary schedules based on time served and longevity stipends will no longer be allowed.

The plan would end social promotion by requiring any student who is not proficient on the state’s criterion-referenced reading test by the end of the third grade to be held back for focused reading instruction.

Sandoval said he also supports vouchers to allow parents to have access to private schools, but provided no details on how his proposal would operate.

His plan would also allow parents to move their children out of failing public schools. For schools receiving a “D” or “F” under the state accountability plan, local districts will be required to offer transportation to another school, including schools operated by the district or charter schools located in the same county.

Sandoval said he will also revive legislation killed by special interests in prior legislative sessions to create a Nevada Charter School Institute. The institute’s charge will be to issue charters for the operation of additional public schools that operate outside the constraints of the 17 local school districts.

Other elements of Sandoval’s plan would require schools to receive a letter grade. Schools that get A’s or improve by two letter grades will get extra funds. If a school fails two years in a row, the administrators will be replaced.

“It’s time for a fundamental change from the ground up and the top down,” Sandoval said.  “We must fight for our kids with focused accountability, real consequences, expanded opportunities for choice, and more local control over funding.”

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said Nevada’s schools are in crisis, rated last among the states in a recent survey for the quality of its public education, and Sandoval’s plan won’t bring improvement to public education.

“We’ve got a real crisis on our hands,” she said. “We’re going to need to address the funding issue at some point. This political posturing and re-baked Gibbons reform ideas didn’t fly in the past and won’t fly again.”

Reid campaign spokesman Mike Trask said Sandoval’s plan is clearly an effort to back away from a budget-balancing plan he proposed several months ago that would have laid off hundreds of teachers and cut funding for smaller class sizes.

“He clearly wants people to forget about that plan,” Trask said.

Some of the plan appears to borrow from proposals pushed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, where money was taken from failing schools and given to those that didn’t really need the additional funding, he said.

Reid, who released his “EDGE” education plan in March, said his plan would transition every school in Nevada to an EDGE school where community-based decision making would lead to improved student performance. EDGE stands for Economic Development through Great Education.


audio clips:

Reid spokesman Mike Trask on Sandoval plan:

063010Trask1 :27 points on vouchers.”

Trask says Sandoval plan borrows failed ideas from former Fla Gov. Jeb Bush:

063010Trask22 :24 don’t need it.”

Teacher Union President Lynn Warne says Sandoval plan a rehash of failed ideas:

063010Warne :19 in this state.”

Rory Reid Takes His Education Reform Plan to Northern Nevada, Rejects Vouchers as “Gimmick”

By Sean Whaley | 5:02 pm March 23rd, 2010

RENO – Democratic candidate for governor Rory Reid took his education reform plan to northern Nevada today, calling for a fundamental change to give principals, teachers and parents a much bigger say in how their schools operate.

Reid said his plan would transition every school in Nevada to an “EDGE” school where community-based decision making would lead to improved student performance. EDGE stands for Economic Development through Great Education.

Reid said in his plan principals would have control over curriculum, staffing and scheduling and discretion to spend more pupil funding on the best programs and services for students. Teachers would have more freedom in the classroom as well.

Reid also said in an interview today with the Nevada News Bureau that he supports open enrollment, whereby parents would be able to move their child to another public school if their local school was failing.

“Parents should be able to vote with their feet if they believe that a school isn’t serving their child’s needs,” he said.

While supporting competition among public schools, Reid said he does not support the idea of voucher schools, where parents would receive tax dollars to enroll their children in private schools.

“I think vouchers, frankly, are a political gimmick,” he said. “They take money from one system and give it to another.”

Reid’s position on vouchers sets him apart from the three major Republican candidates for governor. Governor Jim Gibbons, former North Las Vegas mayor Mike Montandon and former U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval have all endorsed the voucher school concept.

Gibbons had asked the Legislature via Proclamation in the special session that concluded March 1 to consider a voucher school proposal, but there was never a bill introduced and lawmakers adjourned without addressing the issue. The request to consider his “scholarship” plan for students, along with several other education-related proposals, was included in an amended Proclamation signed by Gibbons on Feb. 24.

Montandon said today there are challenges in crafting a voucher bill to get around the limitations on using public tax dollars for private schools, but that such challenges should not stop elected officials from trying.

“It’s the only way teachers will ever get paid what they deserve,” he said. “If there is competition with private schools to get the best teachers, we don’t even need to discuss merit pay.”

Reid said his EDGE plan is revenue neutral and would generate additional classroom dollars by reducing the amount spent on administration. He noted that Baltimore’s school reform program was initiated with $165 million in central-office budget cuts, of which $88 million was diverted to local schools.

Reid says his plan, a year in the making, borrows the best elements found in magnet, empowerment, charter and traditional public schools. The key to a school’s success are principals who are given the power to lead, teachers who are freed from arbitrary regulation and parents who are engaged, he said.

Successful schools are also critical to the state’s efforts at economic growth and diversification, Reid said.

“We’re never going to have a strong economy unless we have strong schools,” he said. “They are linked.”

While there might be some opposition to his plan, Reid says Nevada’s public education system is broken and needs to be fixed, and that his plan will accomplish this goal.

Audio file:

MP3 – Rory Reid on EDGE Plan

ACLU Objects to Closed Meeting (and I question the ideological diversity) of Gibbons’ Education Task Force

By Elizabeth Crum | 11:29 am March 23rd, 2010

You may or may not have heard that the ACLU objected to the Governor’s education task force meeting in private last week (that was the Friday meeting at the Wynn to which I earlier referred here).

The governor’s office disagrees with the ACLU due in part to this AG opinion last week (Hat Tip: Ralston):

I have reviewed the Governor’s Executive Order creating the Blue Ribbon Task Force to advise him on budget issues for the next biennium and to facilitate the application for federal funding pursuant to Race to the Top.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force, as described in the Executive Order, is not a public body subject to the OML. It will be appointed by the Governor (the Governor is not an entity subject to the OML: see §3.02, OML Manual) and secondly, the BRTF will make recommendations only to the Governor. (see §3.04, OML Manual) Committee is subject to OML where parent is a public body and it appoints a committee who is tasked to make recommendations to parent. Such is not the case here.

George H. Taylor

Senior Deputy Attorney General

My question is this:  Why not open the meetings up regardless of the legalities?  What possible reason could there be for keeping these meetings closed?  If the purpose of the panel is to (1) help the state figure out how to competently process its way through the Race to the Top application and (2) come up with ideas to reform our sorry educational system, why can’t the public sit in?

I have other questions, too, some of which the governor’s spokesperson, Dan Burns, answered last week (but not really to my satisfaction, as follows):

Burns said panel members were chosen from “every segment of society” and “every walk of life” and that the panel is not “a political group” but a place for “fresh ideas” that will “make educational reform recommendations to the governor.” I’d really love to believe that – but if new ideas are really what they are after, why is there so little diversity of background and ideology on the panel?

I see one known empowerment school and one charter school advocate, one guy who believes in Florida-style reform (if you did not know it, Florida is kicking all the other states’ butts when it comes to measured improvements over the past decade) and one conservative senator who in the past has spoken in favor of choice via vouchers/scholarships and charter schools (but doesn’t support empowerment).

Why are there no panel members from the Business Educational Alliance for the Children of Nevada (BEACON), NPRI, the Nevada Innovative Coalition for Education (NICE), the Council for a Better Nevada, any of the state’s private schools or anyone repesenting the home-schooling peeps?  We couldn’t even pick 2 or 3 panelists with ties to these groups?

Yet:  we do have a higher ed guy, the superintendent of Nevada’s public schools, the head of Nye County’s public schools, the head of Washoe County’s public schools, the head of Douglas County’s public schools, a former university regent and teachers union endorsed candidate for CD-2 in the last two election cycles, a public school teacher from Clark County, a Washoe County public school teacher, a public school teacher from Lyon County, a Clark County public school principal, the president of the Nevada PTA, and the head of the Nevada teachers union.

Does that list look like people from “every segment of society” and “every walk of life” to you?  I’m not saying there should be NO representation from the public school system, but the ratio looks pretty lopsided.  So, color me skeptical on the whole “fresh ideas” thing.

Governor Gibbons to Announce Blue Ribbon Education Panel

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:43 pm March 14th, 2010

As Flashed by Ralston just now:

Gibbons to announce blue-ribbon education panel headed by Elaine Wynn, Chancellor Dan Klaich

Coming tomorrow.

Legislators of both parties, gamers, union types, superintendents, even the Just Say No to more taxes crowd will have representation among two dozen members. Many usual suspects but some new voices and smooth move in pick of Sonya Horsford, who has better education credentials than her elected official husband.

More Monday.

Just left messages for three active “empowerment school” and/or school voucher advocates here in southern Nevada to see if they have (or know) someone on the panel.  I’m interested because as I’ve been learning about education reform, the issue of Empowerment seems to be a non-partisan goal that both Dems and Republicans can find reason to support.

Will post an update if/when I have one.

Assembly Speaker Says Governor’s Education Reform Plan Not Likely to Get Hearing in Special Session

By Sean Whaley | 12:37 pm February 26th, 2010

(Updated at 2:37 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2010)

CARSON CITY – Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley said “probably not” when asked this morning if the Legislature will have the time to consider education reform and the other measures included in Gov. Jim Gibbons proclamation for the special session now entering its fourth day.

Gibbons on Wednesday amended the proclamation to include a number of issues he had previously asked the Legislature to consider at the special session, including amendments to the state’s collective bargaining law, a school voucher, or scholarship, program and elimination of the state mandates for smaller class sizes in the lower elementary grades of the public schools.

Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns said the governor would be disappointed if the Legislature did not make an effort to take up at least some of the proposals included in the proclamation.

“The governor would like to see some effort by the Legislature to consider all of the education reform measures,” Burns said. “But he would like to see at least some effort to consider some of the proposals he has made, to have the Legislature show they have some level of interest in modernizing the system of public education in this state.”

Burns acknowledged that Gibbons has called on the Legislature to finish its work by the end of the day Sunday. But the pace of the Legislature up to now, described by some as “glacial,” already has afforded some time to consider education reform, he said.

“We’re in the fourth day,” Burns said. “How many bills have come to the governor’s office?”

Gibbons still has not received the bill to change Nevada law to allow the state to compete for federal Race to the Top funds, passed by the Legislature on Wednesday, he said.

While pleased that lawmakers are now picking up the pace, and that lawmakers are actively working on solutions to the $900 million budget shortfall, Gibbons will be surprised and disappointed if the Legislature can’t take the time to consider one single idea to improve education, Burns said.

“All we’re asking for is a fair shake,” he said. “The governor has said he will bring the issue up again.”

While hearings on education reform do not appear likely, the Assembly today did introduce a bill to allow for the temporary increase in class sizes in the next school year to deal with the impending public school budget cuts.

Assembly Bill 4 would allow school districts to add two students to class sizes in grades 1, 2 and 3. Those classes are now limited to 16 students per teacher in grades 1 and 2 and 19 students in grade 3.

Joyce Haldeman, representing the Clark County School District, supported the bill, saying the addition of two pupils to the classes in these three grades would save the district $30 million next school year.

Gibbons wanted the class-size mandate permanently repealed.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, said he believes the measures should be given some attention, even though lawmakers are under pressure to balance the budget and adjourn as soon as possible.

“We owe any governor the courtesy to at least look at these,” he said.

The two houses could divide the proposals to speed the process up, Hambrick said.

“Give him a chance in the batter’s box,” he said.

Gibbons Touts Edu Reform, Asks for Campaign Donations, Talks Cuts, Takes Criticism

By Elizabeth Crum | 6:39 pm February 2nd, 2010

Ralston posted the full transcript of the morning missive. Gibbons’ four point starter plan:

Adopt a statewide voucher system, give parents choice and control, and give school districts more power over the way their funding is allocated.

Allow more flexibility in school structure and planning by eliminating local government and school district collective bargaining. This will return control of the education system to parents, students, and school boards in the local communities.

Eliminate the elected state Board of Education and replace it with a five member advisory board. The State Superintendent of Education would be hired by, serve at the pleasure of, and report to the Governor.

Streamline K-12 school funding and create empowerment school districts, letting school districts decide where to best put those resources based on their student populations.

And, this afternoon, David Schwartz at the LV Sun quoted Gibbons saying that school districts should prepare for a budget cut of about 10 percent and that:

While the Legislature last session cut funding for school districts, it’s up to local school boards to decide how to implement any cuts — whether through lower pay or less classroom funding. Because of collective bargaining teachers have not taken the 4.6 percent pay cut that state workers have through furloughs.

But Gibbons said he would consider issuing an executive order to ease rules on collective bargaining. And some Republican lawmakers are calling on teachers to take a cut in pay in order to prevent layoffs and lessen the impact of cuts on the classroom.

The State Democratic Party today criticized Gibbons’ plan via a Tweeted link to a press release by Phoebe Sweet (@psweetdem on Twitter):

Gibbons education plan disgraceful, like his administration: